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“Hee,” a riveting thriller, stars writer-director Kaori Momoi, who will be in San Francisco for the Japan Film Festival. (Courtesy photo)

From the opener “Flower and Sword,” about a clash between flower-arranger monks and cruel warlords in the 16th century, to the plight of a pyromaniac prostitute in “Hee” (“Fire”), the closer, the Japan Film Festival of San Francisco offers a dizzying variety of subjects, styles and moods.

Running Sept. 1 through Sept. 10 in Japantown’s 143-seat New People Cinema, the festival — part of the J-Pop Summit, a showcase of trends in Japanese music, fashion, art, anime, games, tech and food held annually since 2009 — offers some 20 features, documentaries and shorts.

“Flower and Sword,” directed by Tetsuo Shinohara, tells the story of ancient Rokkakudo Temple’s “flower monks” who created ikebana flower arrangements, taught about the art form and cultivated tea ceremonies in an era filled with armed conflict and acts of cruelty. The poster and trailer for the movie, which screens at 7 p.m. Friday, are misleading in how they punch up its comic aspects.

Other movies in the lineup include the San Francisco premiere of Ryota Nakano’s 2016 “Her Love Boils Bathwater,” at 1 p.m. Sept. 2, about a single mother’s struggle to revive the family’s failing bathhouse business, with an appearance by Nakano; and Shingo Matsumura’s 2017 “Love and Goodbye and Hawaii,” at 1 p.m. Sept. 3, a romantic comedy about complications of continued cohabitation after a breakup.

The festival screens the West Coast premiere of Junji Sakamoto’s 2016 “The Projects” at 3 p.m. Sept. 3; the offbeat film follows the adventures of an elderly couple who have recently moved into a nondescript public housing complex, and learn that its residents and visitors are not what they first seemed to be.

At 7 p.m. Sept. 4, Japan’s biggest animated movie from 2016, Makoto Shinkai’s “Your Name,” screens. Critics have called the supernatural love story about a city boy and a small-town girl who intermittently wake up in each other’s bodies a “wistfully lovely tale about fate and time.”

Screening at 7 p.m. Sept. 6 is Yuya Ishii’s 2017 “The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue,” a film inspired by the poetry of Tahi Saihate which follows the complex relationship between a young construction worker and a nurse who moonlights as a bar girl.

The U.S. premiere of 2015’s “Hee,” written and directed by Kaori Momoi, who also stars, closes the festival at 2:45 p.m. Sept. 10. The riveting suspense thriller is magical movie experience, beginning with an intriguing and puzzling scene, yet pulling the viewer in.

Momoi plays an aging prostitute in Los Angeles, whose ride in a crowded elevator becomes a surreal fantasy-session in the mind of a psychiatrist or, perhaps, something real involving the court-appointed examination of a serial murderer.

Director Momoi, familiar for her acting work in “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Ghost In the Shell,” appealingly shows her character in “Hee” in unforgiving closeups and a pitiful state.

Momoi, also a TV star and recording artist with 15 albums to her name, appears in person at the Sept. 10 screening; she will receive festival honors for her achievement in filmmaking at 2 p.m. Sept. 9 on the main stage at the J-Pop Summit at Fort Mason.

The festival also screens the 2017 documentary “Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki,” about the legendary animation director supposedly in retirement, at 1 p.m. Sept. 10; the showing is free, but reservations at http://www.jffsf.org/2017/schedule/ are required.


Japan Film Festival
Where: New People Cinema, 1746 Post St., S.F.
When: Sept. 1-10
Tickets: $15 for most screenings
Contact: www.jffsf.org

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