We’re only just into spring in Tokyo, and 2012 is already shaping up to be a good year for film – with the April lineup proving to be no exception. Several films that scored big at film festivals around the world are being released, headed up by Academy Awards stand-out ‘The Artist’. And if you have time off with the kids this spring break, you might be able to keep them entertained with a big-budget Hollywood action movie, or an interesting Japanese animation.

For a look at these films and more, here is the Weekender’s selection of April’s big releases.

The Artist

We start this month’s round-up with ‘The Artist’ (left), the French silent film that took the Oscars by storm, earning five wins – including Best Director, Best Actor and Best Picture – and which is now finally making its way to Japan. The film has garnered huge critical acclaim worldwide, and is a shot-in-the-arm for Hollywood and its predictable, formulaic output. The film, shot in black and white, pays homage to early Hollywood silent cinema, and stars Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, relative unknowns outside their native France. Set in the 1920s, Dujardin plays successful silent film actor George Valentin who, after a chance meeting with Bejo’s soon-to-be starlet Peppy Miller, sees their careers take opposite trajectories with the rise of sound in film.

‘The Help’ is another film with a high presence at the Academy Awards; it may not have won Best Picture, but did earn Octavia Spencer the Best Supporting Actress prize. The film has been praised for its strong female ensemble cast, leadby Emma Stone as the film’s protagonist, Skeeter Phelan. Phelan is a journalist who decides to write a book detailing the struggles of African-American maids working in a white household, exposing the racism of the era. The film also stars Viola Davis (pictured below) and Jessica Chastain.

The Help

Gary Oldman (pictured, top) stars in spy drama ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, another awards success. Based on the 1974 novel of the same name by John le Carre, the action is set in London during the days of the Cold War. Oldman, nominated for Best Actor for his performance, plays George Smiley, an MI6 agent who is asked to come back from forced retirement to identify a Russian mole within the agency. The film has been praised for its recreation of the dull, grey, day-to-day working life of the people who work in intelligence, which creates a claustrophobic tension—a thousand miles away from James Bond’s guns and girls—as Smiley interviews his colleagues and attempts to root out who is betraying him and his country.

Looking set for cult classic status is ‘Drive’ (pictured, below). Criminally under-appreciated at the Academy Awards, according to its many fans, it did pick up the Best Director Award at Cannes for Nicholas Winding Refn. The film stars Ryan Gosling, who gives a chilling performance as a garage mechanic and stunt man – who also works part time as a getaway driver. The film creates a sleazy noir-ish world of gangsters and criminals, as Gosling’s unnamed ‘Driver’ character begins a relationship with his neighbor, Carey Mulligan, which causes his life to spiral out of control. The film contains scenes of brutal violence, but has been praised for its cool visual style and top-notch acting.


Less likely to do well at awards season are ‘John Carter’, ‘Battleship’ and ‘Wrath of the Titans’. John Carter has been making headlines recently for being a huge financial loss for its studio, Disney. The film tells the story of John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a civil war veteran transported to Mars, where he teams up with a band of long-limbed green aliens and saves a princess.

The film has done better abroad than in its native US, so will be hoping for a strong showing here in Japan. ‘Battleship’ is a film based on the classic children’s game of the same name, and sees an invasion of an alien army and the US Navy’s attempt to combat them. This film also stars Taylor Kitsch and features the singer Rihanna in her acting debut. ‘Wrath of the Titans’ is a sequel to 2010 epic ‘Clash of the Titans’, and sees the return of Sam Worthington’s demi-god hero Perseus, who must save the earth from Hades and the monstrous Titans.

Also on release this month is ‘A letter to Momo’, a beautifully drawn new animation, with a look similar to the films of Studio Ghibili. The film follows 13-year-old Momo, who, after the death of her father, moves from her home in Tokyo to the remote island of Shio. On the island she meets some strange ghostly characters, as she tries to uncover the secret behind an unfinished letter written by her late father.

Christopher O’Keeffe