Japanese titles at Tokyo FF 2017

Tokyo International Film festival featured its Japanese programs, younger/beginner director oriented Japanese Splash, which was also a competition series, and Japan Now series, featuring recent releases. Japanese films were featured also in the International Competition as well as in special screenings.

In the Japanese Splash series the most familiar name was Watanabe Hirobumi, along with his regular staff, music director/producer brother Watanabe Yuji, and Korean DOP Bang Woohyun. Also familiar was main actor Imamura Gaku, who acted the main role in the last year’s Splash-winning film Poolsideman. This year’s film, Party ‘Round the Globe was remarkably happier than Poolsideman, with director commenting in the Q&A, how they consciously wanted to make a film with similar theme and structure, but appealing for a wider audience. “My brother’s piano students could not go to see the previous films, but this they can”, said Watanabe.

Party 'Round the Globe

Like in the earlier films, work is an important part of the film. This time many scenes were shot inside of a local small electronic factory, one of the numerous ones, who actually subcontract for big name electronics industry in Japan. The monotonous days are broken by lunch breaks and the continuous talking y a colleague at work (played by director Watanabe).

What is different from Watanabe’s previous films is the time structure. The film is  not continuous, but has tie-in scenes of a car ride to Tokyo y the protagonist and his talkative colleague, to see Paul McCartney play there. The daily monotonosity of the protagonist is broken down by scenes from the Tokyo trip. Also, for the first time there is a flashback/forward scene/dream sequence, which is framed as the dream of the protagonist’s dog.

The title of the film refers to McCartney’s ’round the globe tour, which now comes to Japan. But the real party is at the end of the film: documentary footage of the Watanabe brothers grandmother’s 100-year birthday party.

So nothing much happens, and we don’t get to see Paul McCartney (as did not see the director and the DOP either, as they were shooting outside of the concert venue). But somehow the goodnatured humor, respect for everyday characters, gorgeously lensed non-moving camera, and weird Watanabe humor again start slowly biting on the viewer.

Watanabe brothers, whose first film festival trip – and their first trip abroad ever – was to  Helsinki Cine Aasia with their first film, have their own cult followers in Finland.

Another notable title was The Hungry Lion by Ogata Takaomi, which tackled a very contemporary problem: school bullying via mobile phone and social media. The main character, schoolgirl Hitomi is rumored to have had sexual relations with a teacher, who is sacked from his job due to improper behavior with minors. Soon the previously popular Hitomi is alone, and things escalate to suicide. Both tackling a common school problem in any country, the film can also be interpreted as commenting on false and fake news in general.

Japanese Splash award went to a documentary film tackling LGBT issues, Of Love & Law, directed by Toda Hikaru.

Other films in Japanese Splash were weaker. Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops by Matsui Daigo struggled with a complicated narrative experiment: it was a 74 minute one shot film about a one-month theater rehearsal, which eventually gets cancelled. Hence 4 weeks are skillfully inserted in one shot, but audience was divided in their opinion over whether the theatrical stage-acting style worked well here, in a film. Ambiguous Places by Ikeda Akira aimed perhaps for a Brechtian estrangement or just generally for a weird non-logical story, but the cheap staging and low production value took away any interest in the experiment. Uchida Eiji’s Between Men and Gods featured a triangle story of love, lust and abuse, but on a such unbelievable scale but with no final story solution or thought delivered to the audience. Sugita Kyoshi’s Listen to Light was based on tanka poems, and featured several stories, totally unrelated to each others (some had actually been seen at festivals as short films). So why put these together and call it a feature film?

International competition’s Tremble All You Want by Ooku Akiko won the audience voting, and for a good reason. The film is a fun and colorful growing-up story of a young office worker, Yoshika, who has hard time deciding whether her school-time dream, Ichi (Mr. One) is the one she should go for, when Ni (Mr. Two) is ready to settle with her. The day-dreaming fantasy scenes and almost musical type of staging add to the delightfulness of this film, which should please at least all female viewers.
Tremble All You Want

The other Japanese film in competition, Zeze Takahisa’s The Lowlife did not take any wards, and for a reason. Since the beginning of October film industry has been talking about the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and in the light of the news and the #metoo movement, The Lowlife, with its  female protagonists, who happily involve themselves in the AV actress (porn actress) profession, and even seem to get sexual pleasure from the job, seemed totally outdated, like the director had been sealed in the 1980s and had never stepped outside.

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Finnish film Euthanizer picks screenwriting award at Tokyo Intl FilmFest


Teemu Nikki, director-screenwriter for Finnish film Euthanizer (Armomurhaaja) in international competition at TIFF got the recently established WOWOW Best SCript Award at Tokyo International Film Festival’s Award Ceremony on Nov 3rd. Film’s producer Jani Pösö picked up the prize. The film is the 3rd Finnish film screened at TIFF during its 30-year history.

Euthanizer is the 3rd feature-length film from the production company It’s Alive!. The company also produces profilic short films, and hhas made two youth-oriented television dramas, LoveMilla and Mental (Sekasin), the latter participating in Tokyo Prize earlier this fall, and being now in production for season 2.

Euthanizer is about a stubbornly morally conscious pet euthanizer, who feels sympathy for animals but hates people, until he meets with a nurse. The film also touches contemporary issues, besides animal rights and the question of euthanasia, the recent rise of neo-nazi groups in Europe.

The film’s lead actor, Matti Onnismaa also received unofficial actor mention from the five-member online critics’ jury, run by newspaper Asahi Shinbun.

Asahi Shinbun TIFF critics’ daily review.

The film was also screened at Finland Film Festival 2017 in Tokyo.
Finland Film Festival in Japan


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YIDFF: Documentaries on 3/11.

In the YIDFF films on the Earthquake series two films stood out, for good or bad. These documentaries are related by the documentary maker Matsubayashi Yojyu, who made one and participated to some degree to the other.

311, a project headed by Mori Tatsuya (of White, screened at YIDFF in the past), is a record of four documentarists heading towards Tohoku 2 weeks after the earthquake. They pack a geiger counter in the car and drive north, first aiming to reach the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. The filmmaker (Mori, Matsubayashi, Watai Takeharu and Takaharu Yasuoka) follow the rising numbers on the geiger counter with bewilderment but stubbornly head towards the Dai-ichi. They get more and more covered in self-constructed protective gear, looking like something out of a Oshii Mamoru sci-fi film. At 7 kilometers from the plant the car tire breaks out and that is the end of their journey. This part of the film is almost comical in its amateurish expression of fear, amateurish travel to a potentially dangerous zone and the self-dedication with which these four men have to make their goal.

The tone changes in the second half, where the directors head towards the vanished villages on the Tohoku coach. They try to pose as reporters to the people into whose evacuation centers and search for lost family members, home and belongings they intrude. The interviews go sometimes awry, ending with the camera recording bodybags being gathered by the roadside, the villagers about to do identification, and one local man noticing the four with their cameras filming. he throws a wood stick towards the camera, expressing the locals’ feelings about the pervasiveness with which the media has covered their suffering.

The film divided the audience. Some took it as an attempt in media and self-criticism, others saw it as a nasty intrusion into the suffering. Certainly there are elements of the former, but in order to realize these goals, the directors did intrude into personal zones and used the local people’s trust for something else than what the locals thought they were doing – obviously the locals must have taken them as another TV news crew. Especially intruding is Mori’s authoritative, rude voice-over – he seems to be leading the project. Makes one also wonder, what would the result have bee had one the crew been a female filmmaker.

It seems Matsubayashi took the trip as a hint and went back to Tohoku. This time he stayed there for weeks at a time, returning to the same evacuees again and again, and winning the trust of the Tanaka couple, who act as evacuation coordinators of one neighborhood of Minami-Soma area. The gap between a filmmaker and his topic starts melting down, as Matsubayashi participates in the rescue work and follows the locals. His approach in his documentary Fukushima: Memories of a Lost Landscape is a gentle, observational one, a total opposite to that of 311.

What makes this documentary is so human are the moments which are not covered in general TV reporting. The camera shows the Soma people in the humanness. One man is worried about running out of sake when stubbornly staying in his house in the 20K zone around the nuclear power plant. The Tanakas are granted a visit to their home and there is a hearteningly humorous scene, like straight out fo an Ozu film, of them arguing what things to take with them from the house and what not.

In fact, Matsubayashi’s film was the only in the earthquake series, where the subjects of the film showed up in the screening: the Takakas were present in the screening and got applauded by the audience.

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女として生きる/Transgender Trouble

Ebata Koki, a graduate student at Todai’s Film and New Media program, has followed the workers and customers of Joso New Half Propaganda club since 2009. Onna toshite ikiru/Transgender trouble tags the true life of transponders, or so called hew halves, as opposed to the sensationalist images seen on TV. We actually do see one clip of such a program, with the typical celebrity figures¨ stupid amazed faces in the corner of the screen. What Ebata did was go to Propaganda club as a member of the same subgroup, having herself gone through the transformation into a her. She records the lives of the workers, cabaret girls and hostesses of the place, at Propaganda and around the town, in their apartment having an all girl party, and at the clinic getting hormone shots. She has also come up with clever ways to fill the screen when filming was not possible. One conversation between the director and Moca, the manager of Porpaganda club and main topic of the film, is heard as voice-over under Moca’s drawings of herself and Ebata as cute manga-like animal characters.


Ebaka Koki, herself a transgender, studies the real lives of transgender tokyoietes, as opposed to the images seen on TV

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YIDFF Yamagata Intl Documentary FF 2011

YIDFF kicked off on Thursday evening 10/6. This years strong theme are the films shot at or reflecting upon the 3.11 aka the Great Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami, as well as the Fukushima Dai+ichi nuclear crisis.

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Hiroshima Awards

Kitamura Aico has created an interesting commentary on hikikomori in Getting Dressed/Fuku wo kiru made: a woman who does not want to dress. She stays in her room with her pet bird. She stays naked, eats cornflakes and milk – until she runs out of cornflakes and has to get our of her room. The film is one of course work films of Tokyo Geidai – Tokyo University of Arts, which started an MA program in animation two years ago. Head teacher is Yamamura Koji.

As the school has a program for music and sound, animation and film students have access to great sound studios and talented musicians. The cello soundtrack in Kitamura’s film stood out as an exceptionally well-suiting one for the theme and style of the animation. I also liked the narrator’s voice – it sounds exactly like those artistic young women you enchanter in places like Koenji and Kichijoji.

Yamamura Koji himself talked in one of the Educational Market seminars. The talks were by teachers of different university animation programs, and dealer with the topic of how to teach animation. During the two years the students make two animated films and learn such topics as script development, coloring, 2D animation, and, what is important, lectures on how to develop and illustrate a project you want to work on. Yamamura also commented on the often-mentioned influence of his own animation style to his students. He said he never screens his own films during lessons. He mentioned hearing the same from the EStonian animator Priit Pärn: Yamamura could see in young Finnish animator’s work a Priit Pärn -influence (Pärn taught years in Finland).

And coming to Priit Pärn: he and his wife OLga Pärn taught an intensive workshop at Tokyo Geidai beginning of August, after which they headed to Hiroshima and took the Hiroshima Prize with Divers in the Rain.

Grand Prix went to Norway, to Anita Killi, whose domestic violence film Angry Man has already raised the interest of a couple of Japanese distributors.

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Hiroshima, day 3

Monday’s competition screening theme seemed to be difficult relationships, be them between lovers or parents and children. I am betting that the really nice domestic violence film, Angry Man from Norway will gather a lot of audience votes. Japanese entry to this program was Oyama Kei’s Hand Soap, a depiction of teenage feelings, with acne pimples and wet dreams included. It seemed the main character was partly created by rotoscoping, if not actual footage of an actor, on top of which a malformed face was animated. But over all, the film captured well the self-centered absorption through which a teenager experiences his surroundings.

One of my personal favorites was the Taiwanese The Soliloquist by Kuang Pei Ma. The protagonist, kicked out by his girlfriend, starts to get letters addressed to somebody named Michael. The animation had nicely boxed (like mail boxes arriving) images flowing on top of each other.

South Korea has numerous entries both in the competition and in the Stars of the Students program. Kofic’s support for audio-visual industry shows in the rise of young animators, to whom I have run also at Yubari Fantastic Film Festival. Here  a still from the competition film Dust Kid (dir. Jung Yumi).

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