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.
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.
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.