Born in 1956, Masayuki Suo is one of Japan’s most renowned film directors. At the Awards of the Japanese Academy, he has twice won the Best Director Award. Internationally, his films are regularly screened at film festivals all around the world.
His 1992 film Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t was one of the very first Japanese films that I ever saw. I remember the film made me laugh a lot (largely thanks to the scene-stealing performance by Naoto Takenaka), but what impressed me the most was its wonderful balance of drama and comedy. It deservedly won Suo the Best Director Award at the Awards of the Japanese Academy the following year. I didn’t get the chance to revisit the film until Australian distributor Madman released it on DVD, and on second viewing, I was happy to see that it had lost none of its charms and I enjoyed it tremendously. In many ways, I think this film has set the standard for Japan’s sports films.
Suo’s most acclaimed film remains 1996’s Shall We Dance?, which is about a salaryman who decides to take up ballroom dancing and finds a new passion for life as a result. The film won Suo the Best Director Award at the Awards of the Japanese Academy for the second time as well as Best screenplay for his script. In total, Shall We Dance? won a staggering 14 awards including all four of the acting awards (Best Actor for Koji Yakusho, Best Actress for Tamiyo Kusakari, Best Supporting Actor for Naoto Takenaka and Best Supporting Actress for Eri Watanabe) as well as awards for cinematography, editing, art direction, music score and more. To this date, this remains my favourite Japanese film. I am yet to see another film that is so elegant, beautiful and inspiring.
Following Shall We Dance?, it was a long 10 years before the director released another film – the legal drama I Just Didn’t Do It, a film that won the director further acclaim for his insightful commentary on Japan’s justice system. Then with his next film The Terminal Trust, the director decided to tackle another serious subject matter - terminal illness and suffering. I had the chance to see it at the Japanese Film Festival in 2012, and found it to be a harrowing yet rewarding viewing experience. It was also nice to see the reteaming of Shall We Dance? stars Koji Yakusho and Tamiyo Kusakari.
This year’s Japanese Film Festival Opening Film, Lady Maiko, is Suo’s long awaited return to comedy. For that reason alone, it is one of my most highly anticipated films at this year’s JFF. Also, Naoto Takenaka is in it, and so plenty of laughs could be expected. I hope to bring you a review soon after I have seen it.