11 a.m.—Only Yesterday is a 118-minute animated Japanese film with English subtitles. From SIFF:
The films of Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli are known for their female heroines, from Princess Mononoke, to Kiki, to Pony. But with Only Yesterday, director Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies) and producer Hayao Miyazaki delve deeper into the emotional experiences of young women than perhaps any animated film before or since. The number-one film in Japan in 1991, it has remained largely unseen in the U.S., where it is the only Studio Ghibli feature not yet released in theaters or on DVD. Realizing that she is at a crossroads in her life, bored 20-something Taeko heads for the countryside. The trip dredges up forgotten childhood memories that unfold in flashback to younger years—the first immature stirrings of romance, the onset of puberty, and the frustrations of math and boys. In lyrical segues between the present and the past, Taeko wonders if she has been true to the dreams of her childhood self. Only Yesterday is classic Ghibli animation, a double period piece that beautifully evokes both the 1960s and 1980s, and the quintessential drama of Japanese school-day nostalgia. Recommended for ages 9+
1:45 p.m.—Simon and the Oaks is a 122-minute film in Swedish and German with English Subtitles. From SIFF:
An epic drama spanning the years 1939 to 1952, this is the gripping story of Simon (played by Bill Skarsgaard, brother of Alex and son of Stellan), who grows up in a loving working class family on the outskirts of Gothenburg but always feels out of place. Intellectually gifted, he stubbornly persists in acquiring an education normally reserved for young men of the professional classes, much to the chagrin of his parents who fear that he will become stuck up.
At prep school, he meets Isak, the son of a wealthy Jewish bookseller who has fled Nazi persecution in Germany. When Isak faces trouble at home, he seeks comfort from Simon’s family and the two households slowly merge, connecting in unexpected ways as war rages all over Europe.
Simon and the Oaks is based on the Swedish bestseller of the same name, written by Marianne Fredriksson. It offers a unique depiction of fate, destiny and free will and vividly portrays the situation for Jews in Sweden during World War II.
4:30 p.m.—Countdown is a 120-minute Korean film with English subtitles. From SIFF:
Huh Jung-ho’s freshman thriller percolates with the presence of great veteran lead performances and energetic pacing. Tae Gun-ho (Jeong Jae-young) is a debt collector who one day passes out and awakens to doctors informing him he has 10 days before his liver fails. Tae lost his young son five years earlier in an event that he has repressed, and his son’s organs saved the lives of five people. In an admittedly absurd yet surprisingly delightful set-up, Tae figures these people owe him their lives and sets out to convince them to share their liver. The only one who agrees is Cha Ha-yeon (Jeon Do-youn) who is about to be released from prison. She wants revenge on the gangster who put her there; once Tae helps her achieve that, the liver is his. When Cha is released and it becomes evident that many parties are out to get her, Tae realizes he’s in for much more than he expected. Jeong and Jeon throw themselves brilliantly into the twisting allegiances of the plot and Huh maintains a brisk, compelling pace, thanks to a witty script and an effervescent visual style.
7:15 p.m.—LUV is a98-minute American film. Director Sheldon Candis scheduled to attend the screening. From SIFF:
William “Woody” Watson (Michael Rainey, Jr.) is a shy, smart 11-year-old living with his grandmother in suburban Baltimore. When his uncle, Vincent (hip-hop artist Common), is released from prison after serving eight years of a 20-year sentence, Woody is captivated by the man’s charm, swagger, and potential as a father figure. Woody’s dad is long gone, his mother reportedly in North Carolina dealing with her drug addiction. Post-prison, Vincent seems ready to embrace both the kid and a life outside of “the life.” But while driving Woody to school one day in his midnight-black Mercedes, Vincent makes a hairpin turn that will cause their lives to spin out. He decides to give Woody a crash course in being a man, complete with lessons on how to talk to girls, show confidence, and dress well. This innocent exercise soon turns chaotic when Vincent gets tangled in a quick-money scheme. Set during the course of a single day, their time together is marked by displays, starting at 8:36 am and continuing well into the night. Perceptive newcomer Rainey Jr. and Common, excellent here, are supported by a strong cast, including Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Lonette McKee, and The Wire’s Michael Kenneth Williams.
9:30 p.m.—Dragon is a 98-minute film out of Hong Kong with English subtitles. From SIFF:
Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen), a quiet papermaker and father of two sons, lives a seemingly normal, uneventful life in a remote village. But his placid way of life is disrupted with the arrival of two bandits. As they attempt to rob the general store, Liu comes to the defense of the shopkeeper, killing both of the thugs in the skirmish. Liu is proclaimed a local hero, but Xu Baijiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), the detective dispatched to investigate the incident, has his suspicions. Employing unconventional techniques, such as phrenology and acupuncture, Xu discovers that one of the bandits is an infamous criminal on the government’s 10 Most Wanted list. Skeptical that a mere papermaker could possess the advanced martial-arts techniques needed to overcome two vicious thugs, he begins digging into Liu’s past, determined to bring him to justice. Originally intended as a remake of the Shaw Brothers’ classic, One-Armed Swordsman, director Peter Chan instead chose to reshape the material, creating in the process an exhilarating hybrid of noir-mystery and thrilling martial-arts action.