Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 Recommendations

It’s almost March and that means the Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF) is about to launch for its 2020 edition.

The festival plays from March 6-15 and comes at a time when the international community is convulsed with the spread of the Coronavirus. However, despite the cancellation of part of the programme (a decision taken by one of the festival’s co-hosts), the rest of the event is scheduled to go with 58 films to be screened and a whole host of guests to attend. It’s a ballsy move typical for a fest that screens hard-hitting works that challenge audiences. Also typical is the way the programmers continue to search out and provide a platform for talented individuals and stories that contain thorny issues.

If OAFF has an identity, it’s a rebellious guy or gal standing up for someone else as borne out by the films programmed with the fiery fight for democratic rights in Hong Kong seen in Apart (2020), a myriad of LGBTQ+ stories from across Asia, the biggest title this year being the Taiwanese romance Your Name Engraved Herein (2020) which gets its world premiere at the fest. Nearly half of all festival berths given to female directors and it is on the basis of quality rather than tokenism as seen with the moving drama Way Back Home (2019) and there are a lot of pure entertainment film, many from the Philippines which bring some absolutely charming romances for audiences to relax to like Write About Love (2019) and Last Song Syndrome (2019).

Here’s a trailer for the fest:

The line-up for this year’s festival is as exciting as it has ever been and while the slate features names from returning directors, there is a deep well of new talent on display in various sections and if you want to see the cinematic output of Asia in one place, this has to be it, especially since the films will have English subs.

I’ll be on the ground at the festival to review films. Although post-film Q&As have been cancelled, if any of the filmmakers are present I still might have the chance to interview creatives to highlight some of the gems that may be gracing other festivals and cinemas around the world.

Please check the full line-up of OAFF 2020 which can be found here on the official site (complete with synopses I have written) and here is a summary on my blog.

Here are my recommendations:

The Girl with the Gun (Rae Red, 2019, Philippines)

A fearsome performance from Janine Gutierez helps propel Rae Red’s solo feature directorial debut which also stars an ensemble of great actors who play a group of characters all connected to the titular gun as we look at the lifespan of a weapon passing through the hands of people from the politically turbulent 1980s to the crime-ridden era of now.

While the crime genre is typically male-dominated, in the Philippines, filmmakers have recently tackled it from a female perspective with “Buy Bust” (2018) and “Neomanila” (2017) and “Birdshot” (2016), which Rae Red helped write, being some standout titles. “The Girl and the Gun” offers a thrilling, visually crisp narrative with a message about power dynamics between people, and the gender analysis, with the inflection of violence, proves to be most gripping.

Kontora (Anshul Chauhan, 2019, Japan)

Anshu Chauhan — whose film “Bad Poetry Tokyo” (2018) won Best Actress at OAFF 2018) — returns to the competition with “KONTORA”, a movie which takes in a family drama and the echoes of World War II.

Set in rural Japan, the movie follows a high school girl who loses the one family member she can talk to, her grandfather, is left trying to make sense of the stifling reality surrounding her and the distant relationship from her father but hidden treasure and a vagrant who only walks backwards promises to change the dynamics in her life. Chauhan again explores the clashes between past and present and the frustration of youth stuck with older generations that are inflexible and selfish but with black and white visuals and majestic camerawork and it has a mysterious tone to it which proves absorbing.

Lucky Chan-sil (Kim Cho-hee, 2019, South Korea)

Following the Oscar wins for “Parasite” If you want to sound smart when talking about South Korean cinema, you can bring up the work of Hong Sang-soo and wow any neophyte cinephiles and impress the slightly more clued up who are familiar with his talky and repetitive films. If you want to sound even smarter, try selling them on the debut film of Hong’s former producer, Kim Cho-hee who takes his style and peoples it with genuinely lovely characters.

For her debut, Kim casts actors familiar from Hong’s films and a relatively new actress, Kang Mal-geum, who is the titular Chan-sil, a movie producer who hits hard times and goes through an emotional crisis when a director dies. Plenty of amusement is to be had as Chan-sil tries to get back on track but the film has drama lurking underneath as the main character experiences some bleak and humiliating moments that gets her to question her life choices and it turns out to be a harrowing to go through it with her and proves to have deeper things to say about the human experience than a Hong film.

Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache (Khyentse Norbu, 2019, Nepal and Mexico)

“Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache” has to have one of the best titles of the year and if it sounds barking mad, it makes complete sense at the end of the film. Almost. The semi-abstract story is full of philosophy as a thoroughly modern man living in Kathmandu goes on a mystical journey to save his life. There is a  lot of introspection over the clash between modernity and tradition in Nepal as the film tracks the plight of the psychologically ailing character divided between his attraction to western and city lifestyle and his home culture but the chief pleasure of the experience are the majestically beautiful images shot by Khyentse Norbu. Each frame is a painting that could adorn a wall so while the philosophising might drive you crazy, you can luxuriate in a relaxing and beautiful experience.

VIDEOPHOBIA (Daisuke Miyazaki, 2019, Japan)

Nobody makes stories about the youth of Japan like Daisuke Miyazaki and his latest feature (following “TOURISM“) is completely different. A shadowy tech film that comes with a David Lynchian twist where the world we see is our own but made alien through how technology makes the main character powerless. The movie follows a young woman named Ai whose night out at a club results in a sex video being made. The only thing is, she had no idea she was being filmed. What’s worse is that the video is spread online like a virus.

The narrative sees Ai become disassociated from herself in a disturbing psycho-sexual narrative that leaves many ideas for the audience to mull over once the film is over. Anchored by a great performance from Tomona Hirota and set in Osaka, it’s an original idea made effective by the mise-en-scene and electro soundtrack. The film’s genre-defying nature positions Miyazaki as one of the filmmakers to watch in this year’s edition.

Made in Bangladesh (Rubaiyat Hossain, 2019, France, Bangladesh, Denmark and Portugal) 

Director Rubaiyat Hossain, a new and brave feminine voice in Bangladeshi cinema. With three titles to her name, she challenges the male-dominated space to create socially conscious films told from a female perspective. This film is vital in an age of resistance against corporate exploitation and challenges to patriarchy as it looks at female garment factory workers unionising against hazardous working conditions, male oppression and global capital. It serves up an insight into Bangladeshi workplace and society and how we get our cheap goods in the West at the expense of the workers.