Nippon Connection film festival

Tom Mes china_crisis
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 
pivotal player.

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 
>Eiga Geijutsu.
>'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
>>of view-
>>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
>>your participation.
>>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
>>attended thought.
>>Nippon Connection 2007 will be held from the 18th-22nd of April.
>>Alex Zahlten
>>alex at
>>"Feel free" - 10 GB Mailbox, 100 FreeSMS/Monat ...
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