Over the last 14 years, Japan Cuts has unambiguously become America’s best annual showcase of new Japanese film. Produced in partnership with (and typically hosted by) New York’s Japan Society, the well-curated festival has provided domestic audiences with a comprehensive snapshot of the country’s ever-vital national cinema, from mainstream hits like “20th Century Boys” to obscure epics like “Heaven’s Story,” and from micro-budget dramas like “Amiko” to gonzo masterpieces like 2011’s immortal “Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead.” (Cannes really dropped the ball on that one.)
And it wasn’t the only one: Despite the infinity pool of international streaming content that’s now available to cinephiles around the world, many (or even most) of the indelible movies that screen at Japan Cuts don’t go on to receive a proper release of any kind in the United States, which adds an extra touch of urgency to an already essential fest. But now — at the hour of our greatest need — one of New York’s premiere film events is going national and offering the entire country a chance to enjoy a full slate of new work that probably won’t be showing up on Netflix anytime soon.
Due to the kind of apocalyptic shitshow that could easily be the subject of a film in this festival, the entire lineup of Japan Cuts 2020 will be streaming from July 17 – July 30, with features prices to rent for $7 and shorts for $3.
And this year’s program is up there with Japan Cuts’ best. No one who fell in love with “One Cut of the Dead” can afford to miss the “Opening Night” film, such as it is, as Ueda Shinichiro’s “Special Actors” recaptures some of the same energy that made his debut such an unhinged delight. “Fukushima 50” offers a star-studded yet somber centerpiece, as Ken Watanabe stars as the manager of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on the tragic day for which the facility would come to be remembered.
Other big names in the program include the late “Hausu” filmmaker Obayashi Nobuhiko, whose characteristically wild swansong is a three-hour meditation on cinema and its power to promote world peace, and “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches on” director Hara Kazuo’s four-hour “Reiwa Uprising,” a documentary portrait of a new left-wing political group that looks to challenge Japan’s nationalistic forces.
As usual, however, the real treasures here are buried a bit deeper in the lineup, from a DIY anime rock-fest to a sweet, almost mumblecore romantic drama that feels like a nice update of “In the Realm of the Senses.”
Here are five great movies to seek out during Japan Cuts 2020.