A Preview of the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 (March 08th – March 17th)

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.

What’s on offer?

OAFF 2019 opens with the world premiere of RANDEN: The Comings and Goings on a Kyoto Tram, a sweet and romantic title by director Takuji Suzuki (A Wife of Kitaro (2010)) which mixes a little local magic and a lot of longing for love as a writer on folklore played by Arata Iura (Ping Pong (2002), After Life (1998)) crosses paths with a variety of characters travelling on the titular trams across the western part of the city. The director and his stars will be in attendance for the screening and the festival’s opening ceremony.

The Competition section features films from Taiwan, China, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Japan and the titles feature the newest voices on the scene as well as veteran auteurs.

In an age when festival’s are being forced to examine how much space they give to female directors, OAFF continues to play a leading role in giving considerable festival coverage to women as evidenced by the fact that more than half of the titles in Competition were directed by women. These films have earned their place due to the vision displayed and some have already accrued accolades for their directors. This cadre of creatives includes new directors such as Han Ka-ram who brings a critical look at competitiveness and gender roles in Korean society with Our Body and Yi Ok-seop whose offbeat relationship drama Maggie which looks at the comedic and potentially dangerous misunderstandings that happen in a relationship between a nurse and her lazy boyfriend in the city of Seoul which is beset by the random appearances of sinkholes. Their works sit alongside titles like Asandhimitta, a sultry and deceiving Sri Lankan film about crime and obsession from veteran director Asoka Handagama where a filmmaker explores a murder case, and there is also Tanabata’s Wife, a quiet and beautiful adaptation of a famous Filipino short story about the romance between a Japanese migrant farmer in the Philippines and a local woman.

The festival continues to be a progressive voice through bold choices in programming as there are a number films featuring LGBT characters as seen in titles in the special programmes dedicated to Hong Kong and Taiwan and the large selection of films from the Philippines. Sam Lee, a rising star on the international festival circuit brings a fun romance between two girls in a rural Filippino town in Billie and Emma while Hong Kong director Maisy Goosy Suen dives into the issue of transgenderism in A Woman is a Woman, a film that portrays two people, one at the start of their journey and the other mid-way through theirs, and the reactions from the local HK community. Still Human is a funny and sentimental film by Oliver Siu Kuen Chan which features an award-winning performance from veteran actor Anthony Wong as a disabled man who makes a connection with his Filipino domestic worker that has reportedly had audiences in tears and laughter at screenings in Hong Kong.

One of the big highlights will be seeing the Osaka Asia Star Award and Talk which has been bestowed on Taiwanese actor Roy Chiu who gives a comedic and layered performance in the colourful dramedy Dear Ex where he breaks his clean-cut image to play a husband stealing theatre director who turns out to be a goodhearted person. Roy Chiu will be in town to collect the award and talk about his career.

Local film production is well-represented in Special Screenings as well as the Indie Forum and Housen Cultural Foundation sections where new talents have been giving a platform to show new directions in Japanese cinema alongside more established names. Hitoshi Yazaki (March Comes in Like a Lion (1991)) brings a remastered edition of his well-regarded debut film Afternoon Breezes where a one-sided lesbian love affair unfolds between two room-mates. Nunchaku and Soul brings Akiyoshi Koba’s brand of small town gentle comedy to the screen when a nunchaku nerd and a soul brother enter a dance contest while Bilal Kawazoe looks at the mixed-race experience in Japan with his film Whole.

OAFF 2019 will then close with the awards ceremony where it is revealed who the judges and film fans have selected to win accolades including OAFF’s Grand Prix award, the Audience Award and the Japan Cuts Award which is given by the organizers of JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film to a film in the Indie Forum section. That film will then be screened in New York at Japan Cuts.

The final film of the festival will be the Japanese premiere of the Vietnamese hit-comedy Daddy Issues which stars the king of Vietnamese comedy Thái Hoà. Directed by Japanese filmmaker, Ken Ochiai (Uzumasa Limelight (2014)), it is a funny body-swap story where a lackadaisical father and a high-achieving daughter experience life in each other’s shoes and learn to grow together.

Nearly all of the films are presented in their original languages and will have English and Japanese subtitles, and there will be guests attending many of the screenings. The festival’s continued efforts at making films accessible to a wide audience makes it one of the best opportunities to see the cinematic output of Asia in the world.

The festival’s programme, with descriptions of all movies in both Japanese and English, is available at the festival website. Information on the guests attending and the venues the films will be screened at are also on the site.

Personal Highlights:

Nunchaku and Soul

Akiyoshi Koba has been making films for a while now but this one is a direct hit when it comes to the funny bone. It features a mismatched pair of dance partners who are determined to change their lives for the better by entering a competition. The differences in character and their reasons for entering are mined for low-key drama and lots of belly laughs and it features a funky soundtrack.

Still Human

Filipino domestic workers and the disabled aren’t usually the heroes of Hong Kong cinema but they make for a winning combination in this wonderful drama that is shamelessly upbeat and sentimental. It shows the power of human contact through a friendship that develops between a grumpy disabled man and his put-upon carer. Apparently, Anthony Wong didn’t get paid for taking on this role, he did it out of passion. His reward was to win accolades for his performance. He makes a good partnership with Sam Lee and Crisel Consunji

The Eternity Between Seconds

This is a simple drama with some depth as a middle-aged motivational speaker and a 20-something Korean-Filipino make a connection in an airport and help each other overcome their respective existential crises. The advice given and how it is acted on reflects reality rather and so it is free from the typical melodrama you might expect. Well-shot and charmingly acted, it had a profound effect.

Randen: The Comings and Goings on a Kyoto Tram

One of my highlights from my time living in Japan was sitting on a randen tram with a co-worker from the Osaka Asian Film Festival. It was comfortable, beautiful, and romantic, especially with the cherry blossoms floating around. The film imparted some of the magic that I felt and added a lot more through three sets of characters and the special relationship that can develop between people. Seeing it played out in the city on the screen was delightful.

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