There is something about liminal spaces such as airports which allows the mind to wander loose from the moorings that reality keeps us grounded with. While there, free from commitments to family or work, it is possible to drift in a sea of strangers as we travel from one location to the next which is when we reassume responsibility. We can take a break from ourselves and be open, not just to a change in place but also thinking. This is an idea explored realistically and relatably in The Eternity Between Seconds, a Filipino film where two weary souls meet and offer respite from life’s worries.
Sho Miyake made waves with his 2012 sophomore feature Playback (2012), a time slip drama shot in monochrome which was officially screened at the 65th Locarno International Film Festival and won him international attention. Since then he has refused to conform to any one genre and dabbled in a myriad of projects with no common theme. 2014 saw him make the hip-hop documentary THE COCKPIT and that was followed by a 2017 period drama, The Courier. His most recent feature, the human drama And Your Bird Can Sing (2018), based on a novel by Yasushi Sato, was played at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival and this year’s Berlinale. He has another film from 2018 and it goes somewhere else entirely as it combines a documentary about a scientific club with stories of first love.
The only constant in life is change and we are living through massive changes, not least with regard to the battle for gender equality which has been marked most recently by the #MeToo movement which has spread from America and gained traction in some of the most conservative of societies around the world. Channelling some of the momentum experienced in Japan is Takashi Nishihara, writer and director of Sisterhood. He graduated from the Department of Arts and Film at Waseda University with a focus on documentary and has created fiction films – Blue Ray (2011) and the lesbian love drama Starting Over (2014) – as well as documentaries – About My Freedom (2016) and Queer Asia, a series for GagaOOLala, Asia’s first LGBTQ streaming service. With Sisterhood, he mixes fact and fiction in a film that shows some of the voices asking for change to mainstream of Japanese society.
To capture the shifts going on in gender relations in Japan, Nishihara blurs the bounds between fiction and reality by merging footage from a documentary he has been shooting over the last few years and casting real life actors and models such as Nina Endo and Mika Akizuki (the two leads from Starting Over), SUMIRE and Manami Usamaru, as well as the musician BOMI, and making them play fictional variations of themselves. Each gives a portrayal of a young woman going about their lives. We see them modelling, studying, performing concerts, each desiring to be treated fairly as they chase their dreams and each question their role in society. These questions emerge thanks to a link character, a middle-aged male Tokyo-based documentary film director named Ikeda, played by Ryo Iwase, who interviews people for a documentary about feminism.
Opening the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 is the world premiere of RANDEN: The Comings and Goings on a Kyoto Tram, a love-letter to the local tram that runs in the west of Kyoto City that links famous sites such as scenic Arashiyama to the ancient Koryu-ji temple and the exciting Toei Kyoto Studio Park where jidaigeki have been made over the centuries. It is beloved by many who ride it and the film’s story depicts the intersecting lives of three different couples whose love resonates throughout a narrative as fate, by way of the trams, deliberately bring people together.
Director Akiyoshi Koba is a part-time lecturer at Nagaoka Zokei University and an indie filmmaker whose works feature a mixture of everyday settings dusted with a little sci-fi and tweaked with comedy. Titles include, Slippers and a Midsummer Moon (2015) where two sisters travel between parallel worlds to find their missing father, the tokusatsu parody short Psychics Z (2016), and Tsumugi’s Radio (2017), a gentle comedy about mental illness and mistimed romance told with a lot of flashbacks. In each of the films, mundane locations are used for out of the ordinary events. This is probably driven by budget constraints but it has resulted in an oeuvre which celebrates the possibility of fun and DIY filmmaking in small-town Japan. Nunchaku and Soul is probably Koba’s most amusing work to date and continues in this vein.
I am currently in Osaka working at the Osaka Asian Film Festival. I’ve written quite a few reviews already as I try and make more condensed and concise coverage that is effective. I have been able to do this because I wake up at around 02:00 or 03:00 in the morning and have difficulty getting back to sleep which leaves me falling asleep at 18:00. I hope I can get a handle on it because I’ve got interviews lined up with directors!
In order to get my Osaka coverage going, I finished up my reviews of Koji Fukada’s films Harmonium (2016) and also posted a preview of the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019. Expect reviews for the festivals films to start next Monday.
The Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 (OAFF) is back for its 14th edition and it promises a wealth of cinematic experiences from across Asia with a healthy selection of local indies programmed alongside international award-winners, auteur works, modern classics and genre cinema. I’m working at the festival again so I’ve got a lot of writing to do and I originally wrote this for V-Cinema to introduce the films.
The festival runs at various locations in the city from March 08th through to March 17th and organisers have carefully created a programme consisting of 51 films from 17 regions including 10 world and 9 international premiere films. Over half the titles will be screened in Japan for the first time and there will be filmmakers travelling from across the world to join film fans and take part in Q&A sessions to give more information about their works.
Everything has been organised across multiple programmes including the Competition section as well as sections dedicated to Hong Kong and Taiwan and there is also the prestigious Osaka Asia Star Award which is given to a significant figure from the Japanese or Asian film industry and presented at an award ceremony which is followed by an in-depth talk event.
Koji Fukada’s Harmonium took the Jury Prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and for good reason because it shows a director in precise control of his material. Story-wise, it follows in the footsteps of his debut feature Hospitalite (2011) wherein a stranger enters the lives of a family and disrupts things. While Fukada’s earlier title was light-hearted and poked fun at the social mores of Japan, this film is harsher with only a few dashes of hope beaming down in the final scenes.
Taking the lead is experienced thesp Kanji Futurachi, a familiar face from Fukada’s earlier films like Au Revoir l’ete (2015) and Human Comedy Tokyo (2012) and, crucially, Hospitalite (2011) where he was the stranger that forced a revolution on a family. In a role reversal he is the patriarch and a victim of sorts here as he plays Toshio, the owner of a small factory in the suburbs of some city or other. No location is given. It’s a nondescript and quiet place where he lives a quiet existence with his church-going wife Akie (Mariko Tsutsui) and their daughter Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa). It is she who plays the titular harmonium that gives the film’s soundtrack a funereal sense.
I’ve written this the day after arriving in Japan. Yes, I am back in Osaka and getting ready for work at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019. I hope to provide coverage of the Japanese films and interview the directors and others who make them. I also intend to review films from other countries. Expect a lot of cross-posting between this blog and V-Cinema.
I wrote this trailer post while suffering jet lag so there’s a lot of brevity. I’m surprised I got it done in two sessions over one day! It was completed after walking around Osaka for about four hours.
This week, I reviewed Au Revoir l’ete and Human Comedy in Tokyo, two films from Koji Fukada. I intend to finish the mini Koji Fukada season with a fifth film, Harmonium, next Monday and then from Wednesday, it will be Osaka. I’m going to try and do it in a condensed time and not string it out.