Nippon Connection film festival
Wed May 31 07:26:51 EDT 2006
Many thanks for the detailed and enthusiastic report on the Nippon
Connection festival, Mark. I can only say I share your favorable opinions of
the event. It was my second time there and it confirmed to me how important
this festival is and how much potential it has to become even more of a
Unfortunately I didn't make it to the pink film debate, since I was in a
screening that didn't end until the discussion was well under way. Though
had I known that the talk would last quite as long as it did I would have
snuck in after all. Your thoughts on generational differences are
intriguing, though I wonder if, say, Meike Mitsuru would have looked as much
like the deer in the headlights as Tajiri apparently did.
Arai Haruhiko's lecture did make some interesting points, I felt, but even
when I talked to him more afterward he did not seem inclined to budge even a
millimetre from his viewpoints. His basic alternative to the overemphasis on
the importance of the director seems to simply be an overemphasis on the
importance of the scriptwriter.
>This has long been on my do-list. Now that the university is razing my
>office-building down, I'm cleaning things up. The Nippon Connection
>catalog has been sitting next to my computer reminding me that I must jot
>down some thoughts so that I can pack it away.
>This was my first time at Nippon Connection. I'd heard so many great
>things about it, I wanted to check it out for myself. The rep is well-
>deserved, I must say. It's really quite amazing for a number of reasons.
>First of all, this outfit is fan-driven, and I mean that in the broadest
>and most complementary way. It's built around a cultural festival, usually
>the domain of university centers, embassies, and diasporic communities.
>But NC is run by mostly youngish people, from otaku to graduate students
>to who knows who else. They had the gumption to go out and do some serious
>fundraising; the list of sponsors in the back of the catalog compares in
>numbers and logos to international film festivals. And because it's run by
>fans, the implicit definition of "Japanese culture" is wonderfully
>heterogeneous, deeply inflected with popular culture objects, and plain
>fun. There's a whole room (always crowded) with the latest video games.
>There were tea ceremonies. Sushi at the opening. The festival goods table
>was selling a crazy assortment of trinkets from daily life in Japan.
>This variety informed the spirit of the film selection, another thing I
>found really great. There were forehead-slappers like Ashura, fun
>melodramas like Train Man and Always---Sunset on Third Street, comedies
>like Unversity of Laughs, auteurish festival favorites like Loft and
>Cycling Chronicle--Landscapes the Boy Saw, pink films like The Strange
>Saga of Hiroshi the Freeloading Sex Machine, and digital shorts ranging
>through every mode and genre of moving image media you can imagine. I
>really can't think of another event that has this kind of encyclopedic
>approach, and pitched at such an impressive scale (150 + films!). And most
>people would be jealous of the turnouts they produced; forget getting into
>the main theater if you didn't have a ticket----film after film.
>There were also a big slate of filmmaker-oriented fora, starting with a
>series of discussions between filmmakers and critics/historians like Tom
>Mes, Luk Van Haute, and Jasper Sharp. These were about what you would
>expect----Sato Hisayasu talking about Ranpo and cinema, Toyoda about life.
>Wakamatsu Koji was around for a retrospective of some of his pink films at
>the Film Museum (and Cycling Chronicle). Roland gave extended
>introductions and was interloper for the Q & A's. I was only able to go to
>half of Kabe no naka no himegoto. It was a rather strange experience
>because it was dubbed in German and they replaced the sex scenes with
>Tokyo landscapes----kinda took the fun out of it all, not knowing German
>and all. I heard that the discussions went very well, that according to
>both German audience members and Wakamatsu himself.
>Wakamatsu also appeared on a panel with Sato, Tajiri Yuji and
>myself----Roland moderating and doing a bang-up job of it. I guess I was
>the token historian and gave my schtick on the foreign reception of the
>films since they were made, especially in the US. It was the choice of
>filmmakers that was fascinating. It reminded me very much of a panel at
>Yamagata some years back with Iizuka Toshio, Kanai Katsu, Ise Shin'ichi
>and Kawase Naomi. What came out in both of these panels was the
>generational difference vis a vis the politics of representation. The NC
>panel make-up made it even more interesting. As you can imagine, Wakamatsu
>came on strong and made looking political look so easy. He talked about
>how he films from a place of anger; one of the most striking proclamations
>was something like, "When filmmaking, if you're not political you're not
>human." Then there was Sato Hisayasu, who is driven to think politically
>but is of the post-Zenkyoto generation. Because of this, he had trouble
>articulating his politics; they were outward-thinking, a concern about the
>world, but it was as if there was no steady ground from which to think
>about the world and his place (and his art's place) in relation to it.
>Ironically, he was quite articulate about his inability to articulate.
>Then came the young Tajiri, who looked like a deer in headlights (from a
>Hummer driven by Wakamatsu Koji). Tajiri didn't care about politics and
>was wondering what he was doing there. Roland tried to draw him out, but
>Tajiri basically took a wishy-washy humanist position: if we could only
>hold hands and love each other, everything would be lovely. Actually,
>Hiroshi the Sex Machine is one of the few pink films I've seen with a
>sense of female subjectivity (unbridled, of course, but still), so Tajiri
>was an interesting choice. But like most young directors, he's hobbled by
>a definition of "the political" that's wholly identified with the
>movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s. This panel was one of the
>most interesting I've seen in years for the sense it gave for generational
> difference over issues like politics, sexuality, and aesthetics.
>On the other end of the spectrum was the speech by Arai Haruhiko,
>screenwriter and editor of Eiga Geijutsu. Arai deserves brownie points for
>attempting the speech in English, but many batsu's for giggling onstage
>like a junior high-school student at an English speech contest. This
>language issue is a little more complex, though, and the event revealed a
>lot about film culture in Japan. Hirai decided to make this his
>opportunity to critique the discrimination suffered by screenwriters. This
>was a great move, especially considering that all the other events (as
>described above) were director-centric. He took the organizers of the Ozu
>centenary symposium for not deigning to mention Noda Kogo's name. He gave
>some examples of the sorry place of the screenwriter from his own career,
>and then launched into a critique of auteur theory. This is where it
>really went downhill. It quickly became evident that the only thing Hirai
>knew about auteur theory came from Yamada Koichi's introduction of "A
>Certain Tendency in the French Cinema." Obviously, he hasn't read a thing
>about authorship in cinema since then. It was like experiencing a theory
>frozen in time---like a bug in amber, as Bazin might have put it. This is
>where the language issue made itself felt. Hirai's speech in painfully
>broken English (if he hadn't handed out the text we wouldn't have
>understood much) was symptomatic of Japanese filmmakers and critics'
>inability to use English, German, French or whatever. No one can read any
>of the voluminous discourse on authorship from the last 45 years; no one
>can talk to their colleagues unless they speak Japanese. So an idea gets
>injected into the Japanese film world by someone like Yamada and then
>circulates in its own time warp. That this is the editor of one of the
>most impressive film journals of the postwar era was pretty depressing.
>Hirai topped it off with an offensive metaphor, worth mentioning since NC
>was partially devoted to the politics of sex and cinema. He noted the new
>movie made by the director's guild in Japan. Here's the quote: "The
>prologue of thi smovie is set in Samurai days, where the main characters
>are a Ronin...named Kantoku Emon, which refers to a director, and
>Oiran---a high quality prostitute---named Kakuhon Daiyu, which refers to a
>screenplay writer. They lived in a tenement house called Copyright 29.
>Their landlord tried to take their baby because it had been born on his
>property. I believe this type of characterzation, with the director as a
>man and father, the screenwriter as a woman and mother, portrays that the
>movie belongs to the director. However, another screenplay writer named
>Chiho Katsura comments that 'the father of a move is not the director. The
> person that wrote the screenplay is the father. The screenplay is the
>sperm. The director is the mother who raises the sperm during shooting on
>location or in a studio and then carries the baby that was created by the
>two of them.' I believe this is absolutely correct." Again, the editor of
>'nuf said. I hate to end on a sour, sexist note like that, but I must go.
>Nippon Connection was fantastic, clearly one of the most important events
>for Japanese film in the world. I can't wait to go again!
>On May 9, 2006, at 3:19 AM, Alex Zahlten wrote:
>>Since Jasper and Stefan said some kind word about Nippon Connection (many
>>thanks), I thought I'd give a short resumee from the organizational point
>>NC showed about 150 films (including shorts) in three sections, Cinema
>>35mm films), Digital and Retro (this years retrospective focused on
>>"subversive" genre film, and was shown at the German Film Museum).
>>Audience attendance was good, and though the first sunny weather in
>>provided a slow start the final count was the same as last year, just
>>Over 40 guests from Japan attended to introduce their films, among them
>>Koji Wakamatsu (with his newest film Cycling Chronicles as well as two
>>more films that were shown in the retrospective), Toshiaki Toyoda,
>>Hisayasu Sato, Yuji Tajiri, Haruhiko Arai, Kunihiko Tomioka of Planet,
>>Animation Soup collective, Yuki Tanada, Noriko Shibutani and many more.
>>The festival attempted to increase interaction between audience and
>>filmmakers, and to the usual lectures, Q&A's and Podium Discussions added
>>some late night interview events, headed by Luk Van Haute and Midnight
>>Eye's Tom Mes, Jasper Sharp respectively. Haruhiko Arai held a lecture on
>>the (low) status of the scriptwriter, and the podium discussion was on
>>"Sex and Politics in Japanese Film", with Wakamatsu, Sato, Tajiri and
>>Nornes participating and Roland Domenig heading the discussion. Happily,
>>these events were all well visited and were recieved quite well (at least
>>that was my impression).
>>The audience award (and 2000 Euro) went to an absent Mamoru Hoshi for
>>University of Laughs, so Takashi Nishimura of Unijapan took the prize in
>>The Nippon Connection On Tour program is currently touring through Europe
>>(the Barcelona screenings have just ended).
>>Anyone interested in the exact program can check out the (English)
>>And for anyone thinking about attending next year: All the screenings
>>English subtitles, and the discussions and lectures have English
>>My deepest gratitude to all the members of the list that attended and
>>participated in Nippon Connection 2006. Especially the lectures,
>>discussions and interview events could not have been pulled off without
>>Due to being involved in the logistics of the festival, I couldn't attend
>>all of events, and could sometimes only partially attend. I would be
>>interested in opinions about some of those discussions/lectures by those
>>present- also of course comments on the structure of the program etc..
>>Also, a film festival focusing on a "national" cinema is somewhat
>>problematic in itself, and it being a festival for Japanese film brings
>>some specific issues into play- I feel there is always an interaction of
>>images (i.e. stereotypes) and quite varied ideas that creates a pretty
>>volatile tension. I would be very interested in what some of those that
>>Nippon Connection 2007 will be held from the 18th-22nd of April.
>>alex at nipponconnection.de
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