Photo/Illutration A scene from “Kaibutsu” (Monster) (Provided by Gaga Corp.)

CANNES--The two winning Japanese entries at this year's Cannes Film Festival, "Perfect Days" and "Kaibutsu" (Monster), show audiences both the light and shadows of the country. 

Japanese actor Koji Yakusho, who took home the Best Actor award for “Perfect Days,” exudes the light.  

“Why are all characters in Japanese films good people?” a Japanese journalist was asked at the Cannes festival.

Indeed, despicable men, tyrants and egotistical characters left a strong impression in this year's competition.

But the protagonist Hirayama in “Perfect Days” is a solitary toilet cleaner who loves his humble life.

He polishes toilets, takes pictures of sunlight filtering through trees, relaxes at a public bath and falls asleep while reading paperback books.

Hirayama is an extremely quiet person, not meaning that he dislikes people and society. He is kind to his irresponsible colleagues and stray children.

The movie was directed by Germany’s Academy Award-nominated director Wim Wenders and its release date in Japan is yet to be determined.

The director said he created the movie's protagonist from his favorite people and famed actor Chishu Ryu, who appears in iconic director Yasujiro Ozu’s films.

Wenders said Hirayama is a humble man. Not all Japanese are like this, but he thinks humbleness is rooted in Japanese tradition.

But hints of Hirayama’s past wounds surface during a conversation with his sister, who rides in a chauffeur-driven car.

The shadows surrounding Hirayama are not explicitly revealed in the movie. Wenders said Hirayama once saw hell and was saved by the gentle light of the sunlight filtering through trees.

Yakusho, who exudes an aura from his calm demeanor throughout the entire film, fit perfectly into the character. With no significant rivals, he was a virtual shoo-in for the Best Actor award.

A Slovenian journalist passionately said Yakusho is one of the best actors in the world and is the soul of the film. She added it couldn’t have been made without him.


“Kaibutsu” (Monster), for which Japanese screenwriter Yuji Sakamoto won Best Screenplay, is a much darker film, with the meaning shrouded in the shadows. 

The movie, directed by award-winning director Hirokazu Kore-eda, will be released on June 2 in Japan.

“Kaibutsu” is set in a provincial city where an incident that initially appears to be a mere child’s quarrel escalates into a scandal and disappearance that rocks an elementary school.

Few villains appear in the film. 

A mother worrying about her child, a teacher trying to calmly handle things and a child who doesn’t want to make his mother sad--the mismatch of their respective kindnesses leads to twisted circumstances. They see each an invisible monster.

The structure of “Kaibutsu” recalls the 1950 Japanese classic “Rashomon” directed by Akira Kurosawa, which tells a murder case from different perspectives, but is more complex.

In “Kaibutsu,” three narratives fill missing pieces just like a puzzle and create one story that still leaves contradictions, blanks and mysteries.

“The story continues while it’s not clear for the characters what happens to them,” Kore-eda said. “This ‘unknown’ engulfs the audience. The screenplay is aggressive, and I was excited about how to visualize it.”

There were many masterpieces with a twisted structure in contention for the Best Screenplay award, such as films featuring a suffocating courtroom drama, a meta plot development transcending time and space and a delicate boundary between fiction and documentary.

But the prize went to “Kaibutsu,” which pushed its storytelling technique to the limits of what audiences can follow. Kore-eda’s direction that brought out fresh performances from child actors may have also contributed to the award.

“Powerful drama and vivid visuals are added to his specialty of sensitive expressions,” said a Brazilian journalist who is a big fan of Kore-eda. “I was surprised and fascinated.”