Take a look into an oft-ignored period in Japanese history: the tumultuous years following the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Imperial loyalty is low and socialists run amok, Russian war veterans have turned into vigilantes, and the police can’t keep up with the civil disorder. The only semblance of peace and order can be found when travelling female sumo troupes are in town, entertaining audience with their athletic skills.
Against this backdrop of social unrest, the stories of two sumo athletes, Kiku* and Tokachi, and an anarchist group called the Guillotine Society unfold. Witty and entertaining, their intertwined stories paint a portrait of a divided society in one of the most turbulent periods of Japanese history.
Director Takahisa Zeze masterfully brings the explosive tail-end of the Taisho era (1923-1926) to life and delivers hard-hitting reality, infused with a good dose of humour and plenty of charm. Despite its 189-minute run time, The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine is entertaining from start to finish, thanks to the terrific cast led by Mai Kiryu (Piece of Cake, JFF 2015), Hanae Kan (Love and Other Cults, JFF 2017) and Masahiro Higashide (Before We Vanish, JFF 2017; Creepy, JFF 2016).
*Kiku translates into English as Chrysanthemum