Why Hamaguchi Ryusuke has an appeal that extends beyond Asia

The Japanese film industry has produced dozens of directors who, over the decades, have been hailed by Japanese critics as masters but never achieved prominence abroad. Kurosawa Akira and Ozu Yasujiro have already been regularly cited by foreign filmmakers visiting Japan; the famous Naruse Mikio and Kinoshita Keisuke, much less often.

A similar situation has long prevailed with so-called “4K” directors – Kore-eda Hirokazu, Kawase Naomi, Kurosawa Kiyoshi and Kitano Takeshi – who have collectively won the lion’s share of invitations and awards from major festivals for nearly two decades, leaving a young generation of Japanese filmmakers in relative international obscurity. Today, one of them has decisively crossed the barrier of “4K”: Hamaguchi Ryusuke.

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Hamaguchi was interviewed this week on stage at the Busan International Film Festival by Korean director Bong Joon-ho, present at the festival’s opening ceremony and once again walked the red carpet at the Asian Film Awards on Friday night.

Hamaguchi, 42, is no newcomer: he made his debut with “Passion” in 2008, his graduation film for his MA at Tokyo University of the Arts. After that, he co-directed a three-part documentary on the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northern Japan in March 2011. However, his breakthrough in the fictional feature was 2015’s “Happy Hour”. , an ensemble drama lasting over five hours that won the best actress award for its four main roles – all strangers cast in workshops – in Locarno. His 2018 relationship drama “Asako I & II” was shortlisted for the Cannes competition, but it received mixed reviews and left without a prize.

Then this year, in quick succession, came “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” and “Drive My Car”. The first film, another drama focused on women, won the Grand Jury Prize in Berlin, while the second, based on a short story by Murakami Haruki, won three awards at Cannes, including Best Screenplay for Hamaguchi and co-writer Oe Takamasa. (Hamaguchi also co-wrote “Wife of a Spy” by AFA winner Kurosawa Kiyoshi.)

These two Hamaguchi films have won over not only foreign festival programmers and critics, who have given them rave reviews, but also buyers in markets that are often unfavorable to Asian art films. One is Italy, where local distributor Tucker Film released “Wheel” in August and “Drive My Car” in September, from Rome.

Acquisitions manager Sabrina Baracetti, who is also director of the Udine Far East Film Festival, where “Wheel” was screened at the end of June, cites the Western-style “theatricality” of the film’s three-part structure ( “You can define it as three single acts,” she says), while likening Hamaguchi’s “spoken cinema mastery” to that of the post-war Golden Age titans Ozu and Naruse. “But he also reminds me of Ingmar Bergman, with whom he shares a power of dialogue, in words as in silences “, she adds.” Hamaguchi is a director and screenwriter who knows how to harmonize the spirit of the East and of West, this is the reason why its cinema seduces the Italian public.

And if the other scheduled releases of “Wheel” and “Drive My Car” in Europe and the United States are any indication, Baracetti is not the only one to appreciate – and Hamaguchi is the new international face of Japanese cinema of today.

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