One of the oldest and richest cinematic traditions of all, Japan ranks only behind Hollywood, Bollywood and China in terms of the size of their output. It’s not a case of quantity over quality either, with this year’s Japanese Film Festival boasting another strong line-up, ranging from slapstick time-travel blockbuster Thermae Romae to energetic animation K-On: The Movie, hugely popular teen romance series We Were There and, improbably, a comedy about trainspotters, Train Brain Express. Here are our picks for the hot tickets at this year’s festival.

Afro Tanaka
Bullied as a child, the spectacularly gormless Tanaka has a novel solution – grow a comically oversized afro. Deciding to quit school on a whim, his fortunes fail to improve as he gets stuck in a menial job and remains single even as his outcast friends get girlfriends. A sweet-natured neighbour notices Tanaka’s sentimental side and takes an interest, but can this well-meaning buffoon finally get his life together?
December 4, Hoyts Melbourne Central, 8:40pm

Bunny Drop
Suddenly given the responsibility of caring for young Rin, a child of his late grandfather’s affair, the normally carefree Daikachi (Kenichi Matsuyama) has some serious adjusting to do. Defying expectations, he makes major life changes, shifting to a more child-friendly career and taking on a sense of responsibility he has long shrugged off. Matsuyama’s nicely offbeat screen presence makes this one.
December 8, ACMI, 6:30pm

The Kirishima Thing
When high school kingpin Kirishima opts out of his school’s rigidly hierarchical social system, it creates havoc, with students questioning the cliques that define their young lives. Meanwhile, awkward film buff Maeda sets out to make a zombie film, much to the derision of his peers and teachers. Featuring the same events shown through different perspectives, this film offers an unusually perceptive view of life within the social jungle of high school.
December 1, Hoyts Melbourne Central, 8:30pm

My S.O. Has Got Depression While Hollywood continues to throw evermore stupid obstacles in the paths of its romcom pairings, this thoughtful film looks at the difficulties that debilitating depression causes in a relationship. Salaryman Mikio is periodically struck down by the black dog, putting strain on his relationship with his wife, Haruko (an impressive Aoi Miyazaki), a struggling cartoonist. Like many of the festival films, My S.O. Has Got Depression began its life as a popular manga series.
December 5, ACMI, 9pm

The Japanese Film Festival runs from November 29 to December 9 in Melbourne.

japanesefilmfestival.net