Pittsburgh Japanese Film Festival Returns With Cinematic Cats, Tea Tastings & More | Screen | Pittsburgh

Click to enlarge

Photo: Janus Films

Stray dog

The Pittsburgh Japanese Film Festival, billed as one of the biggest celebrations of Japanese cinema in the United States, introduced local audiences to all kinds of films, new and old, that would otherwise have been hard to see on the big screen.

However, the festival has been stalled for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But 2022 marks its return to the Row House Cinema, which kicks off Friday, March 18 with a two-week run of varied and diverse movies.

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

Opening night will see the Pittsburgh premiere of the charming 2019 film cat island, directed by Mitsuaki Iwago. Row House will be rolling out goody bags and Japanese snacks for a night dedicated to a movie about an elderly man who lives in a small island town run by felines.

The focus on pairings and different themes doesn’t just stop at opening night. Row House has designed this year’s festival to be interactive, with several nights of special events paired with the films. This includes a tea tasting associated 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 To cure, a 1997 thriller about a series of murders and a detective who begins 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 film noir Pale flower.

Click to enlarge Fortune favors Lady Nikuko

Photo: Courtesy of GKIDS and the Production Committee of MOVIZ/”FORTUNE FAVORS LADY NIKUKO”

Fortune favors Lady Nikuko

The festival ends with an accompanying Brew and View beer tasting On-Gaku, a punk-rock animated film about a group of delinquent friends who discover each other through music. Selected beers will be served during key moments in the film.

Outside of special events, there are all sorts of goodies from a country steeped in cinematic history. By Akira Kurosawa Stray dog, from a detective and a criminal whose paths increasingly intertwine, to the famous samurai film Samurai Rebellion, to the breakout 2021 romcom It’s a summer movie! there is a wide variety of genres for fans to discover.

Not to be overlooked are the most unusual gems that will be screened during the festival. This includes Matango, Where Attack of the Mushroom People, a monster movie from 1963 about a group of shipwrecked travelers attacked by people turned into mushrooms. There’s also a late-night screening of Japan’s Craziest Game Show Moments, which basically involves some of the most unnerving things you’ve ever seen on TV.

More than anything, the Pittsburgh Japanese Film Festival is meant to be a celebration of in-person curated film programs and independent theaters, both of which moviegoers have greatly missed during the pandemic.

“It’s not news that the pandemic has taken a number of movie theaters across the country,” Strausbaugh says, “but whether it’s a group of people around a flickering campfire, or strangers filling a dark theater to watch Japanese movies, stories watched and told together seem to be part of our DNA.


Pittsburgh Japanese Film Festival. From Friday March 18 to Thursday March 31. Row House Cinema. 4115 Butler Street, Lawrenceville. $12-27. $49-84 for festival passes. jffpgh.org

Marie A. Evans