The 5 Best Movies of the 2020 Tokyo International Film Festival

This year's TIFF had a lot of inspiring movies, but these were our definite highlights.

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The 33rd Tokyo International Film Festival drew to a close on Monday with Hold Me Back, Akiko Ohku’s romantic comedy starring Non (Rena Nounen), taking home the Audience Award at the closing ceremony. It was one of more than 130 films shown at the popular event that went ahead with live audiences despite the continuing spread of Covid-19. With most other movie festivals around the globe either being canceled, postponed or moved online, there was a considerable number of submissions for this year’s TIFF, including 25 world premieres and 11 first directorial features.

Before the festival we shared five of our top five must-watch titles and now we’re returning with five additional films that truly stood out during the festivities. 

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Company Retreat (Japan)

A critical work of fiction based on an actual event, director Atsushi Funahashi initially intended to make a documentary film about a sexual harassment incident at a famous hotel in Tokyo, but as staff members were reluctant to reveal their identities and didn’t want to smear the company brand, he decided to create a docudrama using actual conversations related to the case but without any real names. 

“In the end, fiction was the only way to bring about the truth of what happened because in Japan there is too much of a facade,” said the filmmaker before the screening of the film at Toho Cinemas in Roppongi. The movie begins with all the characters, mostly hotel employees, in a seemingly upbeat mood as they arrive in Enoshima for a get-together. Things soon darken, though, as the subject turns to Saki (Saki Hirai), who has been on the receiving end of inappropriate advances from a senior colleague. After reporting what happened, her name was leaked to the press, leading to a barrage of abusive messages. The IP address of the person who shared her photos online is somewhere in the area, indicating that it may have been someone in the group. With accusations flying, the tension reaches a boiling point. Stirring intense debate, this is a story that will strike a chord with many in Japan, a country that witnessed a record 82,797 work-related harassment complaints in 2018. 

Japanese title: ある職場 | Genre: Drama | Director: Atsushi Funahashi | Cast: Saki Hirai, Megumi Ito, Takafumi Yamanaka

Possessor (UK/Canada)

The second feature-length film by Brandon Cronenberg (son of the legendary master of horror David Cronenberg), Possessor is an intense and imaginative sci-fi thriller that makes for a fascinating, yet, at times, disturbing watch. A visceral bloodbath of a movie that is visually striking, it is a bit like a film version of the popular series Black Mirror only with much more violence and shock value. 

The story follows Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), the top assassin at a secret organization that uses brain implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies to execute high-profile targets. Once the mission has been completed, she departs the host’s brain by forcing them to commit suicide. The psychological strain of the work is clearly taking its toll on her, though, as she struggles to suppress violent memories and urges while trying to reconnect with her estranged husband and son. Despite those instabilities, Vos remains the company’s number one agent and she is chosen by her boss Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to infiltrate the body of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) to murder his girlfriend Ava (Tuppence Middleton) and her industrial tycoon father John Parse (Sean Bean). However, after killing them, she finds herself unable to pull out and is subsequently trapped inside Tate’s mind as he reasserts control. It is a gripping story made even better by some terrific acting performances in what is a stellar cast.

Director: Brandon Cronenberg | GenreAction, Suspense, Science Fiction/Fantasy | Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland

©”Eternally Younger Than Those Idiots” Production Committee

Eternally Younger than those Idiots (Japan)

Adapted from Kikuko Tsumura’s Dazai Osamu-prize winning novel of the same name, Eternally Younger Than Those Idiots is a thought-provoking film that addresses various sensitive issues such as child abuse, neglect and suicide. Despite the dark subject matters, however, many of Ryohei Yoshino’s movie scenes are light-hearted with a little bit of comedy thrown in. 

Yui Sakuma (Hiyokko) and Nao (Red Beard) take on the roles of the leading characters Horigai and Inogi. The former is a 22-year-old virgin who plays the fool to try to hide her own insecurities. She is about to graduate from university and become a social worker but is unsure whether she is ready for such a responsible position. Inogi is a much calmer, more mysterious figure who’s hiding a secret from her youth. Though the pair are very different, they develop a close bond after a chance meeting in a classroom. What makes the film work well is the chemistry between the two leading ladies who both put in strong performances.

In a talk session before the premiere of the film in Roppongi, Nao spoke of her first meeting with Sakuma. “We were with the director and I thought we would read through the script, but he told us to go for coffee together and try to become friends,” she said. “Though I was surprised, I immediately felt comfortable in her company.” 

Japanese title: 君は永遠にそいつらより若い | Genre: Drama | Director: Ryohei Yoshino | Cast: Yui Sakuma, Nao, Seiichi Kohinata

©Nine Archers Picture Company, 2020

Ashes on a Road Trip (India)

Making its world premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival, Ashes on a Road Trip is a charming and comical family drama by Mangesh Joshi that explores how the death of a loved one can exacerbate strained relations within families. A nice blend of comedy and poignancy, the story keeps the audience guessing until the end as to the contents of Puru Dada’s will after he passes away. 

The eldest of five siblings, Dada expresses on his deathbed that he wishes for his ashes to be spread at their ancestral home and fields. Only after that has been completed can the document be read. The three-younger brothers Satish (Mohan Agashe), Pradeep (Pradeep Joshi) and Ajit (Ajit Abhyankar), along with their sister Sadhana (Geetanjali Kulkarni) set off on an eventful journey in an old Maruti Omni van. Dada’s son Om (Amey Wagh), who doesn’t seem to be able to do anything right in his family’s eyes, is the driver. He is being followed by a motorbike ridden by his pregnant girlfriend who’s trying to encourage him to stand up to his overbearing relatives and tell them about their relationship. He has to put up with a lot as the group gets involved in various scrapes on their little adventure from the sprawling city of Pune to the well-known pilgrimage town of Pandharpur. It’s a fun road-trip movie with some stunning scenery along the way. There are some excellent performances from the leading cast members, particularly Agashe who displays disdain for Om in a delightfully subtle manner. 

Genre: Romance, Suspense | Director: Mangesh Joshi | Cast: Amey Wagh, Mohan Agashe, Geetanjali Kulkarni

©Mochiru Hoshisato, Shogakukan / NagoyaTV

The Real Thing (Japan)

One of three Japanese movies named in Cannes Film Festival’s Official Selection of 2020, Koji Fukada’s The Real Thing is a film adaptation of a 10-part late-night drama series that aired on Nagoya TV last year. Originally based on a manga by Mochiru Hoshisato, it has been edited down to a 228-minute feature and though that is still incredibly long for a theatrical release, it didn’t feel like a tiring watch. 

The story centers around a man named Tsuji (Win Morisaki) who is going through the motions at his company while dating two colleagues he has no strong feelings for. His world is then turned upside down by an encounter with a mysterious woman named Ukiyo (Kaho Tsuchimura) whose life he saves after her car stalls at a railroad crossing. Enamored, he continues to bail her out on several occasions, including an underworld boss who must pay around $10,000 or be sold as a prostitute. She has many more secrets involving a husband and former lover, yet the more she reveals about her past, the more Tsuji gets drawn into her world. Morisaki (Ready Player One) puts in a convincing performance as the leading man, though it’s arguably Tsuchimura (Aircraft Carrier Ibuki) who steals the show, perfecting the role of an awkward femme fatale. Inspired by the American neo-noir thriller The Long Goodbye, Fukada watched Robert Altman’s classic film with his main two cast members before shooting started and even named the crawfish in the production after private investigator Philip Marlowe. 

Japanese Title: 本気のしるし《劇場版》| Genre: Romance, Suspense | Director: Koji Fukada | Cast: Win Morisaki, Kaho Tsuchimura, Yukiya Kitamura

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