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Claus Mueller

Claus Mueller is a Film Festival Ambassador to

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene.


New York: Japan Cuts 2016

Japan Cuts is the biggest festival of Japanese films in the United States featuring only films which have not been screened before in New York City.  In this year’s edition, held from July14-24, 29 features were shown of which 15 premiered in North America. In addition, 20 shorts, 12 Anime avant-garde works in the experimental spotlight festival section program and an industry panel were part of the program.  The feature film line up reflected the diversity of Japanese film and included independent productions as well as films which had scored well in their Japanese release. The eclectic program does not cater to the trends embraced by other festivals but focuses on the distinct characteristics of contemporary Japanese cinema including, according to the New York Times, “the idiosyncratic, the eccentric, the experimental and the weird. A taste that Japan rewards as richly as any other country, even the United States”. Japan Cuts, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, has retained a committed audience as many sold out screenings indicated.  Behind the United States, China, and the United Kingdom, Japan is the fourth largest global film market which released 1.136 films in 2015 of which 581 were produced in Japan, a proportion which has grown over the last ten years. Japan Cuts’ program provides distinct specific insights into Japanese cinema with current, experimental, and groundbreaking older independent productions.  They are guided by the objective of reflection rather than using the festival as a bridge to North American distribution or an instrument of Japanese public diplomacy

I would list among noteworthy productions:

BAKUMAN, Hitoshi One, 2015

Based on the manga Bakuman, the feature narrates the story of two high school kinds, Masher, an illustrator, and Takagi, a writer, fiercely competing with other talented teams to have their story published in the weekly Shonen Jump, the most popular manga magazine in Japan.  Bakuman is a superb portrait of this team and their uphill struggle in gaining the top position, in spite of their age and the established qualifications of others in the competition. Falling behind, they decide to change their story midway, replacing their principal male character with the look alike of Materia’s girlfriend. They win the contest and get their series published in Shonen Jump. If one knows little about manga the film is a superb introduction to the seemingly underground cut throat world of the manga industry, to the fierce competition for success and an audience driven rating system where readers decide. Further, the presentation of the odd mix of characters shaping the manga industry is most intriguing.

The Actor , Haiyu Kamenka Takuji, 2016

The audience is sharing here a subdued and sympathetic story of the everyday life and work of Kameoka, a middle aged journeyman played by the hardly known veteran stage, television and film actor Ken Yasuda. Showing a hidden part of the film and stage industry Takuji leads us through the secondary film and television roles Kameoka is playing, his work as an extra, and jobs in small stage gigs on the stage.  Kameoka takes whichever jobs come along the way to his oblivion. There are few highlights for him in the film like the praise he receives for his performance by an established director, and Kemeoka falling in love with a bar owner’s daughter. Yet in his alcoholism punctuated life and quest for roles, no matter how small, there is no promise in The Actor for a better future or ‘a happy ending’.

Hush, Ryosuke Hashiguchi, 2001

In this original story the lives of a gay couple that had finally archives more solid ground in their relationship is suddenly interrupted by a young woman, Asako, who wants one of them to become the father of her child. Her appearance, life style, and habitat strongly contrast with the well-ordered stylish world of the gay couple. In the context of the dysfunctional family relationships our gay lovers experienced when growing up, the bizarre behavior of their relatives when Asako is introduced, and the discovery that she had a questionable past, the gay couple must reconsider its options. They need to adjust to possibly becoming parents and living together as a threesome.  Being gay is no longer an issue, yet becoming fathers in a threesome of parents is. Hush is entertaining and well enacted, with Reiko Kataoka in her performance of the unkempt outsider Asako deserving special kudos.

Face, Junji Sakamoto, 2000

This influential independent feature depicts, in a most plausible fashion, the emancipation of the seamstress Masako. Right before the Kobe earthquake of 1995, after her mother had passed away, Masako kills her younger sister who had been abusing her throughout her life. She flees and discovers herself building an identity while her photo is posted all over by police trying to track her down.  Her path leads her through forced sex, a house of love where space for sex can be rented, and many encounters with lonely marginal characters. Eventually Masako finds work for an old female fishmonger on a small island but must flee again using her newly acquired swimming skills. Her character changes from that of a humiliated and isolated worker in her mother’s shop to that of an independent and self-assured individual.

Three Stories of Love, Ryosuke Hashiguchi, 2015

In this original feature, written and directed by Hashiguchi, individuals are faced with the consequences of their love far away from happiness, bliss and satisfaction.  Ordinary relationships result here in isolation, frustration, and never-ending pain. Toko is married but psychologically imprisoned by her detached husband and his oppressive mother. She compensates by drawing comic books and wants them published, yet her male drug addicted acquaintance wants to invest her money in a chicken farm instead. She returns to the marriage immuring her. A water engineer who can detect damage by just knocking the walls cannot overcome the grief of his wife being murdered by a psychopath three years ago.  He is obsessed by revenge and goes broke after being exploited by corrupt lawyers. He is left further internalizing his grief and with drawing. A gay and arrogant lawyer cannot escape his history of failed relationships and his last lover leaves him.   


Claus Mueller


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