Osaka Asian Film Festival 2017: Short Films – Breathless Lovers, Ping Pang, Summer Night

I don’t often cover short films but they get programmed at Osaka and this year’s crop were too intriguing to miss. They were rather conveniently screened as part of one package despite being in different parts of the programme but with the filmmakers all being around the same age and the quality of the work being high, it is worth writing down a few thoughts in case these guys are part of the new wave For anyone wondering, elsewhere around the festival, women made a huge impact as feature-film directors. It seems Osaka always programmes a lot of work by women without any of the attendant fuss and controversy seen in the West and that’s a good thing.

 

Breathless Lovers

息ぎれの恋人たち Ikigire no koibito-tachi   

Running Time: 20 mins.

Director: Shumpei Shimizu

Writer: Shumpei Shimizu (Screenplay)

Starring: Kaito Yoshimura, Fusako Urabe, Daisuke Kuroda, Atsushi Shinohara

Breathless Lovers” is the latest work from Shumpei Shimizu. It came into the festival with positive word of mouth, something to be expected from someone who has been educated at the Graduate School of Image Sciences, Tokyo University of the Arts. Indeed, his career features a directorial debut, “Fuzakerun Janeeyo” (2014), produced by Shinji Aoyama and work Martin Scorsese’s film, “Silence.” Shimizu’s short explores a pathological relationship between a man and the ghost of his lover.

The story concerns Toshiyuki, a 23-year-old guy who recently lost his boyfriend Tatsuya in a motorcycle accident. While he physically survived the accident, Toshyuki has been mentally wounded and is unable to ride or drive any vehicles. If he needs to go anywhere, he walks or runs and he does this despite having asthma. To try and connect with Tatsuya, Toshiyuki visits the boxing gym his ex-lover used to train at and performs the same emotionally and physically draining routines over and over as he follows the ghost of Tatsuya. Throughout the film, Toshiyuki is constantly breathless from his desperate attempts to connect with Tatsuya whose lifeless corpse… well, you get the picture. These are the breathless lovers of the title.

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Someone who is holding her breath (just to run with the analogy) is Tatsuya’s resentment-filled mother, Chieko, who has travelled from Hiroshima to Tokyo to meet Toshiyuki for the anniversary of her son’s death. She stoically goes through the motions and polite formalities expected by society but this year will be different. Chieko cut her hair short after their last meeting and has kept it that way. When Toshiyuki sees her, he feels like he is seeing his former lover. The two mourn and the rocks of sorrow begin to shift under the weight of resentment and empty passion as their shared mourning takes a predictable turn.

The film’s strongest aspect is the atmosphere created on screen. Shimizu depicts Tokyo as a choking cauldron of bleak and claustrophobic urban spaces made rather forbidding by a soundscape comprised of clanking construction work and constant traffic. The cinematography Katsumi Yanagijima, hus use of high contrast film to emphasise the blacks of the shadowy areas like underpasses and claustrophobic apartments with whites of the lighting in places like the boxing gym and the use of jump cuts to suggest Toshiyuki’s fragmented and desperately muddled psyche.

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The story is told very well and benefits from being as spartan and short as it is, letting the audience do a lot of the thinking and connection of themes. Kaito Yoshimura and Fusako Urabe’s acting are pitch-perfect. Snatches of dialogue show the mind states of the central characters and their committed performances deliver the raw emotions. The film takes on an unpredictable and ambiguous ending that could have fit in with a film like Shinya Tsukamoto’s “Tokyo Fist” (1995) which will leave an audience intrigued.

PING PANG

ピンパン Pinpan   

Running Time: 15 mins.

Director: Yoichi Tanaka

Writer: Yoichi Tanaka (Screenplay)

Starring: Elisa Yanagi, Yu Peng, Seitarou Ishibashi, Norizuke Matsukawa, Tateto Serizawa,

IMDB

Moving from boxing to ping-pong, this is the story of a young woman (Elisa Yanagi) who is sexually harassed at her workplace by her seriously creepy boss (Tateto Serizawa). His hands are all over her at the office and she does her best to ignore the. She finds solace by playing ping pong at a club every day after work. She takes out all of her pent-up frustrations on the laminated top of the table, often playing against a ball machine rather than a human being. All she does is practice hard by herself as if she’s trying to escape reality.

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Director Yoichi Tanaka, a graduate from Musashino Art University, uses repetition well to show the degradation she faces at her day job is overcome with hard training sessions where her talent for ping-pong is revealed but the real change is when a chance meeting with a Chinese girl she spots stealing metal cables unlocks physical passion she has probably locked deeper and deeper away with every caress of her boss’s hands. Whether it is sport or something more sexual, primal, the main character begins to morph on screen into someone more confident. Elisa Yanagi is a strong act to base the film on as she peels back the layers of her character and it will be great to see her given other roles. Shot effectively on digital camera, the story could be expanded and made into more.

Summer Night

夏の夜 「Natsu no Yoru

Running Time: 31 mins.

Director: Lee Ji-Won

Writer: Lee Ji-Won (Screenplay)

Starring: Han Woo-yeon, Jung Da-eun,

IMDB

Lee, a graduate from the Department of Film Study at Chung-ang University, has made a number of short films such as “Blue Desert” (2011) and “Vacancy” (2013). This is his third film and it’s a simple tale that paints a picture of life for youngsters in Korea. They have to be tough and tenacious in order to survive.

When I write tough, it is not so much violence or deprivation, but the grit to withstand the pressure-cooker environment of the Korean education system and to get a foothold in the job market. The characters have to achieve high marks in exams, bend themselves as much as possible into some shape for employers, and balance the constant high demands of others. We see this through the mirrored progress of two females. So-young is a young woman who is busy juggling part-time jobs while studying hard, trying to get a full-time job. She goes to cram schools and studies at the shop she works the late shift at. A chance for extra money happens when a friend recommends tutoring Min-jeong who is a high school senior. The tutor finds her student leads a difficult life balancing a part-time job at a burger restaurant and a dead-beat drunken dad, but despite this the girl perseveres with things. One day, Min-jeong asks So-young if she can change the time for their tutoring session and this leads to difficult negotiations for both women as they have to rearrange their busy schedules.

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The focus of this simple yet beautifully shot short films is using the mirrored lives of the two female characters to show the extreme demands and expectations placed on young people. The extremity of these demands is relayed to the audience through watching their efforts in employment and education over the course of a week. Lee Ji-won constantly shows scenes of them working or learning, training for something, or talking about their future. When the lesson has to be rescheduled what occurs is a fine balancing act that sees them ask for help from others with varying results. Maybe negotiations might be a better word since things take on a very serious tone when they have to ask for people to cover shifts. It isn’t a meeting of minds at first but they do bond during a summer night and one gets the sense that despite the troubles they may face, they are tough enough to overcome things.

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Son Ji-yong worked as cinematographer on this and everything is beautifully and efficiently lensed with no tricks needed. There are plenty of close-ups to show the control the characters have over themselves when conducting their negotiations and the small peaks of happiness when something goes there way.

 

These shorts were drawn from the Japanese Indie Forum and the strand Looking at Asia through Employment. You can find out more about the other films in the programme in this post covering the full programme.

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4 thoughts on “Osaka Asian Film Festival 2017: Short Films – Breathless Lovers, Ping Pang, Summer Night

    1. I agree. I know that Ping-Pang is being turned into a feature since I talked to the director. The director of Natsu no Yoru is working on another project. Thanks for commenting. I’ve been absent from everyone else’s blogs because I’ve been so busy.

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