Osaka Asian Film Festival 2017 Programme Housen Film Round-Up

I’m writing this the night before I age another year… Back, way back, way way back in the past, when 2014 was about to turn into 2015, I made many New Year’s resolutions. I actually hit every one of my resolutions. Except one:

  • I will investigate the Japanese indie film scene much more,

I didn’t do much in terms of indie films. In fact, reviews of films in general have been dropping to all-time lows. This year, I was gifted the chance to get involved in the Japanese indie film scene when I was at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and had access to a whole bunch of indie titles and filmmakers. However, when it came time to network, I didn’t have the energy or enthusiasm and just stood in the background with a bemused expression because I was deep in thought (strange for a shallow person like me). I did make a couple of connections after film screenings and one has turned out to be a film-friend of sorts. The really indie stuff, as in the kids still in university or freshly graduated, the people who have ascended from the foothills to the slopes as they scale the mountain of a movie-making career, well, I briefly talked to a few but mostly just watched the films and sat in on a couple of Q&As. This happened at National Museum of Art in a really cool area of the city which I enjoyed walking through every day.

National Museum of Art, Osaka

The venue was pretty cool, the relaxed atmosphere of a small lecture hall in the quiet museum being conducive to thinking about a film without distraction. A decent-sized screen was enough to convey the cinematic visions of a bunch of talented creatives to a dedicated audience who seemed very interested in what they had watched (that was the impression I got from the Q&As where people asked probing questions). As was the case for every film at the festival, every screening had subtitles and the ones I saw were perfect. For my part, I sat back and wrote, laughed, and was entertained and informed by new stories of life in Japan and visions of communities and individuals that were unique. I even asked a question at a Q&A. Also, all of the screenings were totally free. Free films. I mean, what a deal!

I’ve got notes on each film and will be publishing reviews for them individually. This post is a bit like a statement of intent and a contents page. The Osaka Asian Film Festival sort of revitalised me as a film-blogger at a time when I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing except having fun. I have a direction to go in now. I’ve also rediscovered anime with Mind Game, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, and A Silent Voice and with the new Kino no Tabi series out it’s time to get hype!

So what were the indie films I saw? They were part of the Housen strand.

Hosen Cultural Foundation: Support for film study and production

What is Housen? Based in Osaka, the Housen Cultural Foundation supports film study and production in graduate schools across Japan with the aim of preserving and helping grow film culture in Japan. This year’s crop of directors came from Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Kyoto University and each shot a film that was technically great or near enough. Every film screening with the exception of Icarus and the Son was a world premiere and one of the Housen-backed films – Breathless Lovers – was selected for a screening in the Indie Forum section. Two of the films later made it to festivals like Nippon Connection and Japan Cuts.

Everybody watches a film differently due to their mindset and emotional baggage and I found I got wildly different responses from other people who saw the same thing. Since I’m usually the odd man out, whatever.

Insecurities out of the way, here are a few brief thoughts before I post reviews over the next week.

bright-night-film-image

1. COOPERATION AND COMMUNITY [績(う)みの村] Dir: IKEDA Keishiro/2015/Japan

This one was a fascinating documentary that looked at the revitalisation of a tiny village thanks to an influx of new people from bigger cities. Audiences were taken into the lives of a variety of people from new residents learning how to farm, to elderly residents thankful that they have new neighbours. Having lived in a community a little like this, I found it engaging.

FULL REVIEW

2. ICARUS AND THE SON [イカロスと息子] Dir: SANADA Kohei/2015/Japan

This was a simple tale of a father reuniting with his estranged son during the run-up to a wedding ceremony. Well-shot by its Director of Photography, Katsumi Yanagijima, the technical merits outshine the story. Personal taste and experience meant it left me cold but others found it entertaining. More information can be found here.

3. PROMISES [子供たち] Dir: ENDO Mikihiro/2015/Japan [WP]

I’m going to pre-empt my review here… I am a big fan of Tomodachi 友達 (2014) (more info in Japanese here), Endo’s debut feature-length film. It had a dry atmosphere (I use this term to mean unemotional and subtle) and the actors gave brittle performances that highlighted the artificiality of some human interactions. Promises gave more of the same as it follows an English teacher who finds the people around him succumbing to some kind of madness. It’s slow, something that may divide audiences, but I found it fascinating.   

FULL REVIEW

promises-film-image

4. BRIGHT NIGHT [レンコーンの夜] Dir: KONNO Yasumasa/2016/Japan [WP]

This one was fun and my second favourite film from the Housen strand. It was about a freshly-minted salaryman forced to join the R&D department of a failing company and given the difficult task of saving it from imminent closure through inventing some new contraption. Cue the introduction of weird characters and a quest to find a magical renkon (lotus root) that could be a panacea for everyone. The story allowed for some broad comedy and a sentimental ending combining magic and technology.

FULL REVIEW

5. SWEETEST TRUTH [スイーテスト・トゥルース] Dir: Evdoxia KYROPOULOU/2015/Japan, Greece [WP]

Two women, one a model, the other a university grad working as a cleaner, face lives of relentless pressure. Well-shot and visually interesting, the script balances two distinct narratives but eventually becomes overbalanced as events pile up.

FULL REVIEW

6. BREATHLESS LOVERS [息ぎれの恋人たち] Dir: SHIMIZU Shumpei/2017/Japan/Supported by Housen Cultural Foundation [WP]

This short film was shot in a way that made it visceral and it was pretty engaging. It’s a story about a guy mourning the loss of his lover through boxing is delivered in an interesting way that eschewed out and out melodrama.

FULL REVIEW

Breathless Lovers Film Poster

That’s about all I’ll write for this introduction. I’ll get cracking with the reviews.

I’m still a little flabbergasted and somewhat proud that I lived and worked in Osaka but when it came time to do film stuff… I missed my chance with 2017 but missing one chance opens up another. I just need to keep working and improving my writing.

More Kino no Tabi!!! GET HYPED!!!

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