It doesn’t take long into the new year to know that 2020 will launch the beginning of another excellent decade for the Japanese cinema. From the long-anticipated return of two manga and anime adaptations that sadly put an end to an era, to thrilling actions and profoundly touching human dramas, 2020 has a movie agenda that will pin you down to your chair. While there are many more, as a start, here are seven of our favorite releases for 2020 that we think you’ll enjoy as much as we do.
1. Last Letter (ラストレター)
In 2018, Shunji Iwai (Love Letter, April Story) directed his first overseas movie in Chinese language titled Last Letter, a family misfortune that revives an old high school romance. This year, Iwai is back with the same title and story, this time set in Japan. The plot follows Yuri, who attends her sister Misaki’s class reunion to announce that she had passed away. But when she is mistakenly welcomed as “Misaki,” the popular girl at school, and when she meets her first love, Kyoshiro, she decides to keep her true identity to herself, which leads to her embarking on a secret penned journey with Kyoshiro that helps her relive — and understand — her sister’s life.
Cast: Takako Matsu, Masaharu Fukuyama, Suzu Hirose
Director: Shunji Iwai
2. AI Hokai (AI崩壊)
It’s 2030 Japan and AI controls people’s personal information. But instead of solving our human problems, it begins to “punish” those that it believes are not entitled to live based on data analysis of their age, history, and resources. On the verge of collapse, Japan calls for an urgent solution: to find the man who is responsible for inventing this chaos in the first place. But the key to ending the havoc lies in his past, which is equally heartbreaking as the untimely death caused by the uncontrollable AI. Futuristic cyber suspense based on a very humane plot, AI Hokai bounds to be one of the most close-to-the-heart titles of the year.
Cast: Takao Osawa, Kento Kaku, Alice Hirose, Nanako Matsushima
Director: Yu Irie
3. Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku (ヲタクに恋は難しい)
Love is hard to seed and grow for most couples, but when two otaku geeks get together, things are bound to get extra complicated. Meet Narumi, an office employee who has a secret fandom for male-to-male romance comics, and her colleague Hirotaka, a man who lives solely for video games. While both are otaku, their characteristics are the complete opposites, which may hinder their otherwise cute relationship. Based on popular web manga of the same name, Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku is not only a fun rom-com but also an insider’s tip into the many different layers otaku have.
Cast: Mitsuki Takahata, Kento Yamazaki, Nanao, Takumi Saito
Director: Yuichi Fukuda
4. First Love (初恋)
Pro boxer Leo discovers love as he learns he has very little left to live. But instead of enjoying a peaceful romantic relationship, he finds himself helping his new girlfriend, the mysterious “Monica,” escape the dangerous hands of the Japanese and Chinese mafia, plus the police. Leo crosses her path at the right time and commits to helping her because he has very little left to live anyway. But was it the right time — and the right choice — after all? A film that stirs all possible human emotions into one pot, First Love is a dangerously well-done action.
Cast: Masataka Kubota, Sakurako Konishi, Nao Omori
Director: Takashi Miike
5. Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 (シン・エヴァンゲリオン劇場版)
Fans have been waiting for this film since 2015 when its release was pushed back partially due to director Hideaki Anno’s work on Shin Godzilla. But eight years since the last installment, the new Evangelion is finally here and although there is very little revealed about the plot, insiders hint that Ando could be saving the best for the last. Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 is the fourth and final film in the Evangelion: New Theatrical Edition tetralogy, which Anno started in 2007. The last installment brings back some nostalgic characters and concludes the story while posing the ultimate Evangelion question to all of us: What do people live for?
Director: Hideaki Anno
6. Rurouni Kenshin: The Final / The Beginning (るろうに剣心 最終章)
Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the launch of Nobuhiro Watsuki’s best-selling manga series “Rurouni Kenshin,” and the occasion calls for a grand celebration: two live-adaptation films are set for release this summer. The first, Rurouni Kenshin: The Final, completes Kenshin’s saga and centers around the fate of his worst enemy, the mysterious Enishi. Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning, on the other hand, focuses on Kenshin’s past — including something we’ve all been impatient to know: how he got his trademark scar. The action, costumes, and samurai spirit all add up to impressive cinematography that’s worth every minute of your time — for both films.
Cast: Takeru Sato, Emi Takei, Yu Aoi
Director: Keishi Otomo
7. Ito (糸)
Inspired by singer Miyuki Nakajima’s Heisei era megahit of the same name, Ito (Thread) tells the story of junior high school sweethearts Ren and Aoi, raised amid the beauty of Japan’s northernmost island Hokkaido. The two’s youth romance, however, is interrupted when Aoi suddenly disappears after suffering abuse by her stepfather. Ren finds her only for a brief moment before she vanishes again — this time with no traces left behind. The two reunite eight years later by chance, but fate separates them again as the two have grown up to lead a very different life. Fast forward ten years later in 2019, Heisei era’s last year, when the two are given one last chance to be together. Directed by The 8-Year Engagement’s Takahisa Zeze and featuring an ensemble of some of Japan’s top actors, this is a story of a love thread that can never be cut.
Cast: Masaki Suda, Nana Komatsu
Director: Takahisa Zeze
Which of the abovementioned movies picked your curiosity the most? We hope that you can’t wait to see them all!
Text: Japanese Film Festival Editorial Team