Along the Sea 海辺の彼女たち Dir: Akio Fujimoto (2020) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Along the Sea   Along the Sea Film Poster

海辺の彼女たち Umibe no Kanojotachi

Release Date: May 01st, 2021

Duration: 88 mins.

Director: Akio Fujimoto

Writer: Akio Fujimoto (Script),

Starring: Hoang Phuong, Anh Huynh Tuyet, Nhu Quynh

Website IMDB

Along the Sea is the second feature from writer-director Akio Fujimoto. A co-production between Japan and Vietnam, it is similar to his debut Passage of Life (2017) in that it charts the tensions of being outsiders in a foreign land in a near-documentary style. The script is based on stories drawn from real-life interviews, the camera observes a mix of professional and non-professional actors, and melodrama and artifice are kept to a minimum.

However, Along the Sea has a much more cohesive and concise dramatic structure as it takes place entirely in Japan and over a few weeks. Furthermore, as close to social realist as it may be, there are moments of poetic beauty captured by Kentaro Kishi, Fujimoto’s go-to director of photography. As breath-taking as some of these moments are, they never obscure the people at the heart of the narrative.

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Japanese Films at the San Sebastian International Film Festival 2020 (September 18th-26th)

san sebastian film festival 2020 Logo

This year’s San Sebastian International Film Festival runs from September 18th to the 26th and they have announced their selection of films. Due to the Covid-19, the festival has reduced what it will show and created a mixed programme of physical and online activities (details here). There are three Japanese films, as far as I am aware and they are detailed below. Take a look!

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“Bleached Bones Avenue” Interview with Akio Fujimoto (Director) and Kentaro Kishi (Cinematographer) and Kazutaka Watanabe (Producer) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020]

Kazutaka Watanabe, Akio Fujimoto, Kentaro Kishi - Bleached Bones Avenue

Bleached Bones Avenue is director Akio Fujimoto’s follow-up to his drama Passage of Life (2017). It is another film that looks at the shared links between Japan and Myanmar but this time, instead of a family drama, it is unearthing history.

Deep in the hills of Myanmar’s Chin state, Fujimoto and his crew met with a group of people who are dedicated to recovering the bones of Japanese soldiers who died during the Imphal campaign. It was a reckless attack by poorly supplied soldiers who were forced into a gruelling retreat through tough terrain and severe monsoon rains. Beset by malaria and dysentery, a lack of food and medical supplies, many men became sick and many perished, their bodies decomposing in the places they fell. The route they took became known as Hakkotsu Kaido, Bleached Bones Avenue in English. The local hill tribes who experienced these events have passed on their memories to their descendants who Fujimoto and his crew observe for this 16 minute film that connects past and present in a unique way.

The film’s director Akio Fujimoto, actor and cinematographer Kentaro Kishi and producer Kazutaka Watanabe sat down to discuss their work and went into fascinating detail.

This interview was conducted with the help of Kazutaka Watanabe’s lively interpretation.

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Bleached Bones Avenue 白骨街道 Dir: Akio Fujimoto [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020]

Bleached Bones Avenue

白骨街道Hakkotsu kaidō

Release Date: 2020

Duration: 16 mins.

Director: Akio Fujimoto

Writer: N/A

Starring: Pu paul pau, Lang Za Khup

OAFF

Screened at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020, Bleached Bones Avenue is the latest title from director Akio Fujimoto and, on the face of it, this short is a curious follow-up film to his previous work, the family drama Passage of Life (2017), which was shown at the festival back in 2018. However, it continues to examine the human links between Japan and Myanmar in its own unique way.

Fujimoto’s latest film takes place in Myanmar’s Chin state and observes the work of a team from the Zomi tribe who recover the remains of Japanese soldiers who died during the battle of Imphal. We watch as these men, each clad in simple tracksuits, hoodies and t-shirts, prepare for their work then travel by SUV to some remote area. A stream of sequences flow by where the action consists of the team traversing steep mountains, dense with trees, where they dig with simple tools. The only sounds are of bird cries, the voices the men and the tools they use as they gouge out chunks of earth in the hope of bones surfacing from the past. Although the environment looks as if it has remained untouched by human hands, the scars of war are gradually unearthed. This is most potently evidenced in the memories of wartime atrocities passed on from older members of the team to the younger ones and the wreckage of a tank which forms the focal point of a valley. As with the digging, human connections resurface from the river of time and the natural landscape.

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Passage of Life  僕の帰る場所 Dir:  Akio Fujimoto (2017) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018

Passage of Life    Passage of Life Film Poster

僕の帰る場所 「Boku no kaerubasho

Running Time: 100 mins.

Release Date: November 25th, 2017

Director:  Akio Fujimoto

Writer: Akio Fujimoto (Screenplay)

Starring: Kaung Myat Thu, Khin Myat Thu, Issace, Htet Myat Naing, Yuki Kitagawa, Kanji Tsuda,

IMDB Website

Immigration is a thorny issue the world over and Japan is not immune to it since its tough stance and refusal to take large numbers of refugees draws criticism from nations which have more open policies. Whether this criticism is fair or not is put to the side in Passage of Life, as drama trumps politics.

One of two films at the Osaka Asian Film Festival looking at the immigrant experience of people who are of Burmese extraction and living in Japan, the other being My Country, My Home, it is shot with remarkable confidence considering it is the debut feature-film from Osaka-born director Akio Fujimoto who uses a documentary film style to show the uncertainties of life as an immigrant feeling the pull of two different cultures.

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