This April sees the film that took the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director swooping down on cinemas.
By Christopher O’Keeffe
While congratulations go to Alejandro González Iñárritu and Michael Keaton for their achievement, one man still waiting for his Oscar moment is Paul Thomas Anderson whose film “There will Be Blood” controversially lost the grand prize to the Coen Brothers’ “No Country For Old Men” in 2007. See for yourself if his latest, “Inherent Vice,” could have been a contender. Closer to home, it has been a busy time on the Japan movie scene, with Hokkaido’s Yubari Fantastic Film Festival taking place in February and the Osaka Asian Film Festival up last month. Some of the biggest and best films from those events will be going on release in April to give Japanese film fans something to cheer for.
Cinderella – Out April 25
Glossy remakes and retellings of classic children’s stories are doing big business at the box office right now with Disney leading the charge. While fairytale mash-up Into the Woods can still be seen in cinemas and “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Maleficent” have all been released in the past few years, the House of Mouse has now turned to Cinderella for a big-screen revival. Kenneth Branagh is behind the camera directing “Downton Abbey’s” Lily James in the role of the princess, while “Game of Thrones’” Richard Madden hopes to avoid another Red Wedding as the handsome prince. After the death of her father our unfortunate heroine finds herself at the mercy of cruel stepmother Cate Blanchett, until fairy godmother Helena Bonham Carter, lends a magical hand. Disney crafted an animated musical classic in 1950 when they first had a stab at the story, and they’ve retained many elements from their earlier effort this time around. Cinderella’s timeless tale has been told many times before, but this latest version has been very well received abroad, garnering praise for its faithful, throwback style and fine cast.
Ryuzo And The Seven Henchmen – Out April 25
Film and comedy legend “Beat” Takeshi Kitano made headlines last year with stinging criticism of modern Japanese cinema at the Tokyo Film Festival. Now it’s time to see what the man himself can do with the release of his latest, “Ryuzo And The Seven Henchmen?” Not that the acclaimed director has anything to prove: hits like “Sonatine,” “Hana-bi,” “Zatoichi” and “Outrage” have cemented his position as Japan’s boldest modern filmmaker. Kitano’s played both a comedian and a criminal in his career and in this action-comedy he gets to have a go at both. Fuji Tatsuya stars as the titular Ryuzo, an elderly yakuza living a quiet life until he becomes the unwitting target of an online phishing scam. The elderly gangster responds by getting together his old cronies to take on the gang of young miscreants. Kitano co-stars in a cast of veteran toughs.
A Farewell To Jinu – Out April 4
The opening film at last month’s Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, “A Farewell To Jinu” is a Japanese comedy-drama based on a manga by Mikio Igarashi. Popular model and actor Ryuhei Matsuda (“Gohatto,” “Nana,” “The Raid 2”) stars as Takami, a former banker who has developed a phobia of money. To escape his fear, the young man moves to a tiny village populated by a variety of oddball characters including a town mayor with a penchant for violence, an idiotic local thug, and a strange old man who claims to be a god. Takami must learn to cope in his newfound situation if he’s to survive his new cash-free life. This is Matsuda’s second collaboration with director Matsuo Suzuki after 2004’s “Otakus in Love.”
Pride – Out April 4
Set in Britain in 1984, British comedy-drama “Pride” tells an unlikely and uplifting, but true, story of two very different sets of people. Margaret Thatcher is in power and the region’s coal miners are on strike. When a group of gay and lesbian activists at the London Pride march decide to help the struggling miners, they’re not exactly welcomed with open arms. With the miners union embarrassed to receive such support, the activists take matters into their own hands. Traveling to a hard-hit area in deepest Wales, where two different groups form an extraordinary partnership and triumph over shared adversity. Brit veterans Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton head the cast with support from Paddy Considine and “The Wire’s” Dominic West. Fans of “Billy Elliot” and “The Full Monty” are bound to fall for this life-affirming story of working class grit and determination.
Inherent Vice – Out April 18
Paul Thomas Anderson is undoubtedly one of the modern greats of American cinema. Returning to screens for the first time since 2012’s “The Master,” Anderson has again collaborated with star Joaquin Phoenix for “Inherent Vice.” Based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon, Phoenix plays wacked-out private eye Larry “Doc” Sportello, who takes on multiple cases in a convoluted plot involving crooked wives, billionaire land developers, wannabe starlets, hustlers, surfers and addicts. All classic noir stuff, but this is LA in the tail end of the 60s and Anderson is taking us on a seriously drug-fueled, psychedelic romp through a seedy world of mystery and suspense. The director has a knack for putting together impressive ensemble casts and this time is no exception as Josh Brolin, Benecio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon and many more add life to the amazing cast of trippy characters. “Inherent Vice” may not be a straightforward ride, but it’s one hell of a trip.
Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Out April 10
“Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” has ridden a wave of accolades that have culminated in the biggest prize of them all, a Best Picture win at February’s Academy Awards ceremony. In a case of art imitating life, the film stars Michael Keaton as an actor from a successful comic book hero franchise, Birdman, trying to reinvent himself as a serious actor by mounting a stage play of a Raymond Carver short story. After sporadic appearances on screens since defining the modern superhero movie in his role as Batman over twenty years ago, the talented actor finds a timely reprieve in “Birdman.” While unfortunate not to pick up the Best Actor win, the famously out-there Keaton is outstanding. The excellent supporting cast includes Edward Norton as his arrogant co-star, Zach Galifianakis as his stressed producer, and Emma Stone as his troubled daughter. Alejandro González Iñárritu directs the film, using techniques to suggest the entire movie was shot in one long, continuous take à la Hitchcock’s “Rope.” A modern masterpiece and a welcome return to the spotlight for Keaton, “Birdman” is cinema at its finest.
Best of the Rest
Walking With My Mother – In a film that was one of the talking points at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, experienced documentary maker Katsumi Sakaguchi turns the camera on his own elderly mother, recording the painful grieving period that follows the death of her daughter and husband. (April 25)
Mommy – The sixth feature from celebrated French Canadian Xavier Dolan earned the young prodigy the Jury Prize at Cannes last year. A woman struggles to raise her troubled and violent son before receiving help from a mysterious new neighbor. (April 25)
Asleep – The opening film at the Osaka Asian Film Festival last month, “Asleep” is an adaptation of a novella from celebrated novelist Banana Yoshimoto that tells the story of a woman who starts a relationship with a man whose wife is in a coma. (April 25)
The Two Faces of January – Stylish period thriller from the pen of Patricia Highsmith. Viggo Mortenson and Kirsten Dunst play a con-artist couple on the run across Greece with infatuated Oscar Isaacs in tow. (April 11)