The Women of Tokyo International Film Festival 2019

Women take the spotlight for some of the best films at this year's festival

By Jessica Esa
October 23, 2019
Art & Culture, Upcoming Events

Who run the #TokyoInternationalFilmFestival? Girls, girls!

It’s that time of the year again! Last year’s Tokyo film festival was a huge success and 2019 is heading the same way with nine days of films from around the world being showcased from October 28 to November 5. As usual, the films will be shown at Toho Cinema Roppongi Hills, Ex Theater Roppongi, Tokyo Midtown Hibiya, and Tokyo International Forum.

This year we’ve decided to highlight the movies that have women front and center. They’ll make you laugh till you cry, question the meaning of life, and open your eyes to the world around you. There’s something for everyone here, with ladies being at the forefront of everything we cover.

We’ll also be focusing on movies from these four categories: Asian Future which features upcoming-and-coming Asian directors, Japan Now which contains a collection of modern Japanese films from the past year, Japanese Animation which presents the milestone works of animation exploring the progress of the industry, and Competition which highlights the entries that will be judged by a panel of internationally recognized filmmakers.

Get ready for some powerful films at the Tokyo International Film Festival that you won’t want to miss out on.

1. Aewol – Written on the Wind

This is the wholesome and comforting story of So Wol who loses her partner Soo Hyeon in a biking accident. Devastated, she decides to venture to Jeju, a beautiful island off the coast of Korea to recover. The sweeping shots of one of Korea’s most beloved natural escapes provide a treat for the eyes but it’s the everyday life on the island, and So Wol’s integration there, which makes this such a charming film. So Wol is finally able to start overcoming her grief when Soo Hyeon’s and her best friend, Cheol, visits with a letter written by her beloved Soo Hyeon in hand. A story of healing, love, and a fine example of true Korean cinema.

Category: Asian Future
Language: Korean with English and Japanese subtitles

2. The Oath

A tense tale of Razieh (played by Mahnaz Afshar), a woman dedicated to avenging her sister’s murder. Despite the fact that it is illegal for women to swear the oath in Iran, she travels with fifty members of her family on a grueling bus ride to swear an oath in front of the judges condemning her brother-in-law as the killer. Everyone on the bus is frustrated and the tense interactions, many taking place through the windows of the never-stopping bus, lead to a family mutiny. The clock is ticking and the pressure is on—if they don’t arrive at the courthouse by 9 a.m., the killer will go free. 

Category: Asian Future
Language: Persian with English and Japanese subtitles

3. The Secret Diary of a Mom to Be

Carmen loves her life just the way it is. She lives happily with her husband, she’s about to take on a job transfer to the US, and is absolutely adamant she never wants children. Her plans do a complete 180 when she suddenly finds herself three months pregnant. In her eyes, her life has begun to completely fall apart: her husband doesn’t want children, her social life and career prospects are immediately cut short, and her mother-in-law is moving in with her. A comedic commentary on life in Hong Kong for women, the pressures of motherhood, and how to survive when life doesn’t go according to plan.

Category: Asian Future
Language: Cantonese, English with English and Japanese subtitles

4. 37 Seconds 

A coming of age story based around Yuna, a young Japanese woman living in suburban Tokyo with cerebral palsy. Because of her disease, Yuna’s mother continues to smother and patronize her, failing to realize that her daughter wants to take control of her own life, even her sexuality. Yuna is a talented manga artist but often goes uncredited for the work she does alongside her partner Sayaka. Eventually, Yuna decides to take a stand and begins creating her own hentai series. The film is humorous, full of twists and turns, and doesn’t gloss over the realities of the struggles that disabled people face in society.

Category: Japan Now
Language: Japanese with English subtitles

5. Farewell Song

A love triangle story within the music industry, the successful female duo band, Haruleo, is on a fast uphill climb until they hire a handsome roadie name Shima who’s presence causes things to start quickly fall apart. The songs featured in the film are composed by Motohiro Hata and Aimyon but are played by the girls (played by Nana Komatsu and Mugi Kadowaki) themselves. Exploring the girls’ pasts, their romantic lives, and the role that music has played in each of their lives, this is an in-depth exploration of friendship, family, and love. The girls set off on a final tour before breaking up the band, but this road trip will force them to face their issues head-on to begin to heal the scars of the past.

Category: Japan Now
Language: Japanese with English subtitles

6. To the Ends of the Earth

J-pop icon Atsuko Maeda (played by Kiyoshi Kurosawa) proves that travel reporters definitely do not “have it easy” when she is sent to Uzbekistan for a TV show. We follow her around the country as she must face numerous mishaps, misogyny, and the cultural shocks that most people encounter when traveling. The film is immersive and attempts to bring together Japan and Uzbekistan as Kiyoshi sheds her preconceived notions and addresses her own fears and dreams. Stunning cinematography of the city and the dramatic landscape of Uzbekistan give this film a refreshing quality that will inspire you to travel.

Category: Japan Now
Language: Japanese, Uzbek with English subtitles

7. Weathering With You

Weathering With You was a box-office sensation making $15.22 million in the first three days of its Japanese release, surpassing even Shinkai’s previous smash-hit Your Name. In the story, we meet Hina who can conjure sunshine, which is particularly useful in a version of Tokyo where the torrential rain has become a problem that threatens the city’s future. She meets Hodaka, a boy who has been living on the streets of Tokyo and now works for a magazine investigating occult happenings. Together they decide to monetize Hina’s powers by responding to requests for good weather. However, the longer they carry on, the more Hina begins to weaken.

Category: Japanese Animation
Language: Japanese with English subtitles

8. Mananita

A disjointed and tense film about a woman who left her town to become a shooter in the military only to return home years later with a huge scar on her face after losing her job. She’s not coping well and spends most nights drunk in bars and is regarded with suspicion by those she used to know. After a mysterious phone call, she accepts a mission that will ultimately change and endanger her life. This film is very much a character study of the purpose in life and how people cope with it being taken away.

Category: Competition
Language: English with Japanese subtitles

9. Disco

An existential drama focused on Norway’s Christian evangelist community and 19-year old  Mirjam who lives within it. Mirjam is a champion disco dancer who’s pursuing her passion—through the beginning of the film we’re treated to incredible acrobatic dance moves which juxtapose with the intensity of the film. When Mirjam starts to fall into a depressive slump, instead of addressing her mental health issues, Mirjam begins to wonder if she’s being punished for not living a good enough life. Her family suggests that she start taking her religious life and connection to Jesus more seriously to help solve her problems. The film opens our eyes to the intense devotion of religious extremists as we watch Mirjam head down a different path.

Category: Competition
Language: English with Japanese subtitles

Featured photos have been selected from the official  2019 Tokyo International Film Festival website.