Pittsburgh Japanese Film Festival returns with cinematic cats, tea tastings, and more | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh Japanese Film Festival returns with cinematic cats, tea tastings, and more

click to enlarge Stray Dog - PHOTO: JANUS FILMS
Photo: Janus Films
Stray Dog
The Pittsburgh Japanese Film Festival, touted as one of the larger celebrations of Japanese film in the United States, has brought local audiences all kinds of films, new and old, that have otherwise been difficult to see on the big screen.

However, the festival has been stymied the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But 2022 marks its return to Row House Cinema, kicking off on Fri., March 18 with a two-week run of varied and diverse films.

“Given the two-year hiatus, this year’s festival naturally takes on added meaning for us and Row House Cinema,” says festival director Keith Strausbaugh. “But we’re ecstatic to already see advance sell-out screenings.”

Opening night will see the Pittsburgh premiere of the charming 2019 film The Island of Cats, directed by Mitsuaki Iwago. Row House will roll out swag bags and Japanese snacks for an evening dedicated to a film about an elderly man who lives in a small island town managed by felines.

The emphasis on pairings and different themes doesn’t just stop at opening night. Row House has tailored this year’s festival to be an interactive one, with multiple nights of special events paired alongside the films. This includes a tea tasting paired with the new Japanese anime film Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko, a coming-of-age story with a dash of magical realism. There will also be a Japanese whiskey tasting alongside Cure, a 1997 thriller about a rash of murders and a detective who starts to let the case get to him (Parasitedirector Bong Joon-Ho cites the film as one of his biggest inspirations). Guests can also see a performance of Japanese Kouta, a traditional koutaburi dance that has long been performed by Japanese geishas, before a screening of Masahiro Shindoa’s noir Pale Flower.
Photo: Courtesy of GKIDS and MOVIZ/“FORTUNE FAVORS LADY NIKUKO” Production Committee
Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko
The festival closes with a Brew and View beer tasting accompanying On-Gaku, a punk-rock anime film about a group of delinquent friends who discover themselves through music. Select beers will be served during key moments throughout the film.

Outside of the special events, there are all kinds of treats from a country rich with film history. From Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog, about a detective and a criminal whose paths become more and more intertwined, to the famous samurai film Samurai Rebellion, to the breakout 2021 romcom It’s a Summer Film!, there is a wide variety of genres for fans to discover.

Not to be overlooked are the more unusual gems set to screen during the festival. This includes Matango, or Attack of the Mushroom People, a 1963 monster movie about a group of shipwrecked travelers attacked by people transformed into fungi. There is also a late night screening of the wildest moments in Japanese game shows, which essentially entails some of the most baffling things you’ve ever seen put on television.

More than anything, the Pittsburgh Japanese Film Festival sets out to be a celebration of in-person curated film programs and independent theaters, both of which were greatly missed by cinephiles over the course of the pandemic.

“It’s not news that the pandemic did a number on theaters nationwide,” says Strausbaugh, “but whether it’s a group of people around a flickering campfire, or strangers filling a dark theater to watch Japanese films, stories watched and told together seems to be part of our DNA.”
Pittsburgh Japanese Film Festival. Fri., March 18-Thu., March 31. Row House Cinema. 4115 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $12-27. $49-84 for festival passes. jffpgh.org

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