[KineJapan] A short report from the Far East Film Festival, 2019.

Roger Macy macyroger at yahoo.co.uk
Thu May 23 18:38:11 EDT 2019

A short report from the Far EastFilm Festival, 2019.

Japanese films did not find thelimelight this year at the Far East Film Festival. Films from other East Asiancountries picked up the awards; and the retrospective, that run concurrently inanother location this year, was on Korean films. But, for those not in touchwith recent releases in Japan,the light that it shone rendered some strong contrasts.

Before reporting, I should mentiontwo footnotes about the awards announcements. Firstly, since Oliver Chan’sfeature debut, Still Human, has two of her characters watching andlistening to a Japanese pink film in their Hong Kongpublic housing apartment, I can cheat and mention a well-deserved audienceaward-winner. It’s a cantonese film with a strong mix of spanish. Chan gets atleast six languages spoken in her winning debut, which convinced all the way. 

Secondly, the FEFF press releasementioned that “readers of Mymovies.it” had chosen as their best film, FlyMe to the Saitama, the latest film of TAKEUCHI Hideki – he of Thermae Romae. I could find nomention of this on Mymovies website, which I greet with some relief.  Perhaps both of them left early whilst therewas some genuine comedy in a grotesquely privileged school. Later, the filmleaves that behind for a heroic march on Tokyoby strictly all-Japanese massed ranks from Saitama and Chiba“in 19xx”, fuelled on a victimhood - a fake grievance about provincials needingpasses. 

It’s a past, from a weak framingstory in which characters look nostalgically back to something that looks verymuch like our present. Except that those whose access to Japanese IDs isactually restricted, foreign faces, are absent from both time frames. We shouldnot be unduly worried about this choice: the website voters of Friulimight not have been thinking of the March on Rome(1922) – I’ve seen it covered in museums elsewhere in Italybut not in these parts.

But now for some more rewarding Japanesefilms in this festival of “popular film”. After the Hong Kongomnibus film Ten Years was shown at FEFF a few years ago, producers fromother industries in the region also sought to speculate on conditions ten yearshence. Under the Koreeda name as producer, five directors of Ten Years Japanall make something of their 19 minutes. The film has already got some notice infestivals, so I’ll just add that its health must owe something to the competitionand questioning at the script stage. Japanese independent film has, in my view,suffered relative to Europe and elsewhere, in the dearthof support at the script stages. So I hope ‘Ten Years Japan’ really does pointto the future, and that many of those unsuccessful this time get otheropportunities to develop a script.

Melancholic is the debutfeature by Tanaka Seiji where, as is so often the case outside the productioncommittees for commercial films, a filmmaker has to self-nurture their script. Thecharacters are nicely drawn and it is particularly well, and subtly, acted fora ‘situation’ drama. For a while, I thought it would bite at moral choice andits everyday evasion. I know that others admire this film but, for me, if thepolitical is personal, it can’t also be metaphorical.

Having finally caught Tomerareruka oretachi o = Dare to Stop Us here, I wonderwhether the objections in some quarters to the film directed by Shiraishi Kazua,is in the pronoun of the title, oretachi = ‘us’. The film is not really onWakamatsu Pro, but a biopic on Yoshizumi Megumi who worked there. I agree with Mark Schilling that Kadowaki Mugi, (previouslyin Close-knit,), makes her character “funny, likeable,dark and unknowable” in amilieu populated by young men, apart from some uncentred porn stars.  The script of Inoue Jun’ichi is smart andtender.

The one-line lead-ins to the films at FEFF did the Japaneseentries no favour - I thought ‘quirky’ had past its sell-by date a long wayback.  But I also nearly missed the“Feel-good tea ceremony film”, until I noticed some of the names involved. Nichi nichi kore kōjitsu = Every Day aGood Day is one of the last films to castKiki Kirin. She is the master who sets the scene in all possible ways, but thefilm centres on her student, played by Kuroki Haru. Kuroki’s character, Noriko,passes in the film from a 20-year-old student to a seasoned 40-year old. Indeveloping from an awkward and timid young woman to someone much more mature,Kuroki somehow moulded her body undetectably, convincing me here as an actorfar more than for her Berlin award-winning role a few years back.

‘Noriko’ was a name not much given to girls, even in the70s, and director Ōmori Tatsushi picks up on this, even though the film isbased on an autobiographical piece by Morishita Noriko. No omiai are staged orelided in this story – her relationships are very much the lived-in,hit-and-miss versions of the current age. Nor does her father stare wistfullyupon her parting – the gaze is centred from her, in a life-to-death scene, andjust before that, in a frame-grab, which I’ll leave you with. No prizes for whatand who is invoked here, but I thought it a nice way to remember Kiki Kirin.


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