Japan Society Film Announces: Rites of Passage: The Films of Shinji Somai, April 28 – May 13, 2023

Sailor Suit and Machine Gun © 1981 Kadokawa Corp.

New York, March 22, 2023—Japan Society is pleased to announce the 2023 Globus Film Series, Rites of Passage: The Films of Shinji Somai. The first North American retrospective on one of Japan’s most neglected auteurs, this series will spotlight director Shinji Somai (1948-2001), who while widely lauded in his native Japan, remains to this day largely unrecognized in the West.

Kicking off Rites of Passage is the World Premiere of a new 4K restoration of Typhoon Club—Somai’s undisputed masterpiece (Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao-Hsien would declare, “This is cinema!” in regard to the film)—on April 28th, followed by an opening night party. Recently acquired by Cinema Guild, future release plans for Typhoon Club along with Somai’s 1983 postmodern road movie P.P. Rider are in the works. Series highlights include pop idol Hiroko Yakushimaru’s breakthrough Sailor Suit and Machine Gun—with screenings of both the theatrical and 1982 (kanpeki-ban) complete version; the North American Premiere of the 4K Luminous Woman restoration; and imported, archival prints of both Somai’s epic maritime tragedy The Catch and the pop-inflected Tokyo Heaven.

“A major figure in Japanese cinema, Shinji Somai’s recognition and influence are rarely discussed outside of Japan,” said Alexander Fee, Japan Society’s Film Programmer, “this series offers a special chance to rediscover one of Japan’s greatest filmmakers, whose formative works established a unique approach to filmmaking that continues to inspire the current generation today.”

A pioneering filmmaker during what is oftentimes referred to as the “lost decade” of Japanese cinema, Somai came to prominence during the 1980s—a time when the nation’s film industry found itself in flux, perturbed by the collapse of the Japanese studio system in the previous decade. This transitional period would lead to the rise and development of independent productions, leaving Somai to serve as a crucial bridge into the post-studio era. Characterized by his demanding work ethic and innovative use of long takes (one argued to be more influential than those of Kenji Mizuguchi), Somai forged a unique identity, working predominantly within the genre trappings of seishun eiga (youth films) and directing some of the era’s most original and enduring works, five of which comprise Kinema Junpo‘s critics list for the best Japanese films of all time.

Somai’s acclaimed oeuvre encompasses an eclectic mix of generic and stylistic conventions, ranging from Kadokawa pop idol vehicles to Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno to independent art dramas—all underpinned by the filmmaker’s potent evocation of adolescence. Documenting the tempestuous rigors of youth, Somai’s output would remain a persistent influence on filmmakers to come—from Shunji Iwai and Shinji Aoyama to Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Ryusuke Hamaguchi. Somai’s frequent depictions of bodies of water—including torrential downpours and typhoons—parallel the emotional turbulence and volatility of youth, externalizing the alienating depths of growing up in an increasingly chaotic world.

Tickets: $15/$12 students and seniors /$10 Japan Society members.

Screening of Typhoon Club + Opening Night Party: $18/$15/$14

Screenings take place in Japan Society’s landmarked headquarters at 333 East 47th Street, one block from the United Nations. Lineup and other details subject to change. For complete information, visit japansociety.org. Tickets are available now.


All films are listed alphabetically. 

The Catch

『魚影の群れ』 (Gyoei no Mure)

Friday, May 12 at 7:00 PM

Dir. Shinji Somai, 1983, 140 min., 35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. With Ken Ogata, Masako Natsume, Koichi Sato.

Imported 35mm Print. In Somai’s relentless and near-mythical tale of the high seas, a young man takes on the intergenerational calling of his girlfriend’s family—that of a tuna fisherman. Abandoning his father’s vocation, Shinichi (Koichi Sato) turns to his girlfriend’s father Fusajiro, a leather-faced fisherman played by Ken Ogata, to teach him the ways of the sea but struggles to assimilate to the rugged and callous lifestyle. His doting girlfriend Tokiko finds herself caught in a current of emotional devastation as she tends to both men, witnessing the arduous occupation harden and shape Shinichi as he obsesses over mastering his new trade. Playing out as a family tragedy of repeated cycles of trauma and pain, Somai’s maritime odyssey is a modern-day Melvillian epic.

Love Hotel

『ラブホテル』 (Rabu Hoteru)

Saturday, April 29 at 5:00 PM

Dir. Shinji Somai, 1985, 88 min., DCP, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. With Minori Terada, Noriko Hayami.

Echoes of the past reverberate when an ex-call girl and a debtor meet two years after the desperate and fateful night that first brought them together. An existential study of two lonely and tortured souls, Somai’s torrid pinku eiga follows the pair as they kindle a newfound friendship amid the chaos of their broken and dispirited lives. Somai, who started his career as an assistant director at Nikkatsu in the ’70s, would not direct a feature for the studio until Love Hotel. Love Hotel is a melancholic entry into the studio’s legendary Roman Porno catalogue, set against the backdrop of a shimmering neon cityscape and soundtracked by Momoe Yamaguchi’s heartrending crooning.

Luminous Woman

『光る女』 (Hikaru Onna)

Friday, May 5 at 8:30 PM; Saturday, May 13 at 2:00 PM

Dir. Shinji Somai, 1987, 118 min., DCP, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. With Keiji Muto, Monday Michiru, Narumi Yasuda.

North American Premiere of 4K Restoration. A burly hulk of a man (pro-wrestler Keiji Muto) makes his way from Hokkaido to the decrepit trash heaps of outer Tokyo, searching for his beloved in what is perhaps Somai’s strangest feature. When he finds himself pulled into the gladiator pits of a Tokyo nightclub, the mountain man agrees to fight in exchange for information on his lost love. Operating within a bizarre carnivalesque realm of tightrope acts, acrobatic jesters and opera, Somai’s magenta-tinged Luminous Woman inhabits a dreamlike Tokyo underworld populated by tragic figures bearing forgotten hopes and dreams.


P.P. Rider

『ションベン・ライダー』 (Shonben Raida)

Saturday, April 29 at 2:00 PM; Saturday, May 13 at 5:00 PM

Dir. Shinji Somai, 1983, 118 min., DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. With Tatsuya Fuji, Michiko Kawai, Masatoshi Nagase.

Based on a story by Leonard Schrader (The Man Who Stole the Sun), P.P. Rider follows three friends—Jojo, Jishu and Bruce—who, after witnessing the kidnapping of their class bully, try to rescue their tormentor from the grip of his yakuza captors. Aside from the occasional detour, the trio trail their kidnapped classmate across the country, running into a cast of seedy characters along the way—including a pair of layabout cops and a wiry, washed-up gangster played by Tatsuya Fuji (In the Realm of the Senses). Playful and referential, Somai’s farcical seishun eiga employs a variety of stylistic techniques and gags to offer an escapist summer fantasy of carefree misadventures in turn broaching a darker undercurrent despite its tongue-in-cheek demeanor. A Cinema Guild release.

Sailor Suit and Machine Gun

『セーラー服と機関銃』 (Serafuku to Kikanju)

1982 Complete Version on Saturday, April 29 at 7:00 PM; Theatrical Cut on Friday, May 5 at 6:00PM.

Dir. Shinji Somai, 1981/1982, 112 min. (Theatrical) / 130 min. (Complete), DCP, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. With Hiroko Yakushimaru, Tsunehiko Watase, Akira Emoto.

Theatrical & Complete Cuts. Based on the popular youth novel by Jiro Akagawa, Sailor Suit and Machine Gun focuses on the life of schoolgirl Izumi Hoshi (Kadokawa idol Hiroko Yakushimaru) who inherits the reins of a dying yakuza clan and is thrown headfirst into a gangster feud. Vying for respect in an adult world, Izumi takes charge and challenges the violent drug cartel that threatens her clan. Between Somai’s skillful direction, a hit theme song and Yakushimaru herself—dressed in her iconic sailor fuku, Sailor Suit and Machine Gun had all the makings of a smash hit, emerging as a cultural phenomenon that catapulted Yakushimaru to widespread popularity and perfectly captured the zeitgeist of ’80s Japan.

Tokyo Heaven

『東京上空いらっしゃいませ』 (Tokyo Joku Irasshaimase)

Saturday, May 13 at 7:30 PM

Dir. Shinji Somai, 1990, 109 min., 35mm, in Japanese with live English subtitles. With Riho Makise, Kiichi Nakai, Tsurube Shofukutei.

Imported 35mm Print. Up-and-coming model Yu (Riho Makise) finds her career aspirations abruptly cut off after being run over in a car accident, waking up shortly afterwards in the sweet hereafter. Tricking a heavenly emissary to send her back to earth, Yu returns to a world where she cannot come into contact with those who know of her demise, which includes her lecherous producer who is attempting to cover up news of her death. Befriending lowly salaryman Fumio (Kiichi Nakai), Yu is given a new lease on life as she finds happiness living—not as a campaign idol but as an ordinary teenage girl. Capturing Tokyo at the tail-end of Japan’s Bubble era, Somai’s charming pop fantasy is a lighthearted reflection on the transience of life and the simple pleasures of human connection and existence.

Typhoon Club

『台風クラブ 』 (Taifu Kurabu)

Friday, April 28 at 7:00 PM; Screening followed by Opening Night Party.

Dir. Shinji Somai, 1985, 115 min., DCP, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. With Youki Kudoh, Yuichi Mikami, Yuka Onishi.

World Premiere of 4K Restoration. Shinji Somai’s beloved cult film Typhoon Club is widely heralded as the director’s seminal feature, considered to be one of the greatest Japanese films ever made. Offering a caustic immersion into the lives of disaffected junior high students on the cusp of adulthood, Typhoon Club features a lively cast of young talent—including idol Youki Kudoh (The Crazy Family, Mystery Train)—facing existential intrigues, budding sexuality, and rising social tensions in the days leading up to a typhoon’s arrival. Stranded in their schoolhouse as the storm settles in, the group undergoes an awakening as they dispel all—insecurities, fear and desire—under the swell of the tempest. A Cinema Guild release.



7 PM                Typhoon Club with Opening Night Party


2 PM                P.P. Rider

5 PM                Love Hotel

7 PM                Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (1982 Complete Version)


6 PM                Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (Theatrical Version)

8:30 PM          Luminous Woman


7 PM                The Catch


2 PM                Luminous Woman

5 PM                P.P. Rider

7:30 PM          Tokyo Heaven

Rites of Passage: The Films of Shinji Somai is supported, in part, by a generous gift from The Globus Family.

Special Thanks to Bret Berg (AGFA); Ed McCarry (Cinema Guild); Miki Zeze (Kadokawa); Alo Joekalda (The National Film Archive of Japan); Mami Furukawa and Umi Yamamoto (Nikkatsu); Aya Takagawa (Shochiku).

Japan Society Film programs are generously supported by ORIX Corporation USA, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and endowment support from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Endowment Fund. Additional season support is provided by The Globus Family, David Toberisky, Akiko Koide and Shohei Koide, Geoff and Fumi Matters, Laurel Gonsalves, and David S. Howe. 

Transportation assistance is provided by Japan Airlines, the exclusive Japanese airline sponsor of Japan Society Film.

About Japan Society Film

Spurred on by the success of the 1970 Donald Richie-curated MoMA retrospective The Japanese Film: 1896-1969, Japan Society committed to making film one of its key programs in the early seventies—quickly becoming the premier venue for the exhibition of new Japanese cinema as well as career-spanning retrospectives on seminal directors and actors. In 1979, Japan Society established the Japan Film Center, formalizing film as a full-fledged, year-round program aimed at cultivating a deep appreciation and understanding of Japanese film culture among American audiences. Over the years, Japan Society Film has hosted numerous high-profile premieres and programs that include visits from Akira Kurosawa, Toshiro Mifune, Hideko Takamine, and Nobuhiko Obayashi. In 2007, Japan Society Film launched JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film, the largest festival of its kind in North America.

About Japan Society

Japan Society is the premier organization connecting Japanese arts, culture, business, and society with audiences in New York and around the world. At Japan Society, we are inspired by the Japanese concept of kizuna (絆)–forging deep connections to bind people together. We are committed to telling the story of Japan while strengthening connections within New York City and building new bridges beyond. In over 100 years of work, we’ve inspired generations by establishing ourselves as pioneers in supporting international exchanges in arts and culture, business and policy, as well as education between Japan and the U.S. We strive to convene important conversations on topics that bind our two countries together, champion the next generation of innovative creators, promote mutual understanding, and serve as a trusted guide for people everywhere who seek to more fully appreciate the rich complexities and abundance of Japan. From our New York headquarters, a landmark building designed by architect Junzo Yoshimura that opened to the public in 1971, we look forward to the years ahead, which will be defined by our digital and ideational impact through the kizuna that we build. Our future can only be enhanced by learning from our peers and engaging with our audiences, both near and far.


Shirley McQuay

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