An Interview with Fumito Fujikawa, Director of The Light of Spring [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022/Five Flavours Film Festival 2022]

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With a background in both film and anthropology, Fumito Fujikawa’s career encompasses both documentary and drama and sometimes blurs the line between the two.

He first came to international attention with his debut feature film The Name of the Whale, a family drama shot in the director’s home prefecture of Hiroshima and centred on a junior high school boy searching for fossils while his family and friendship circle undergo changes. Critics noted its combination of documentary-like delivery of drama and the use of a partially non-professional cast and child actors and this earned it the moniker of a dramamentary, a style so effective at enraputring viewers in its world that it won the film the Audience Award at the 2015 Pia Film Festival. It went on to be screened internationally at festivals such as Vancouver, Hong Kong, and Taipei.

His next film was Supa Layme, a documentary shot in the Peruvian Andes following a family of six tending to llamas, sheep and working the land. It went on to win awards including taking best film in the Peruvian competition of the Lima Alterna Festival (you can read an interview with the director about that film here).

For his third feature film, The Light of Spring, Fujikawa returned to Japan and shot a work in Tokyo with a real-life family of four acting out the separation of the parents and children during the Covid-19 pandemic. Drawing directly from The Name of the Whale, he recruited two of that film’s actors, Yuki Hirabuki, nee Kimura, and her husband Masana Hirabuki. They brought their two children, five-year-old boy Shui and baby girl Chikasa. Together they convincingly relay a realistic story of a family falling apart, the quiet tensions and desperation between the parents affecting the children until a resolution of sorts is reached.

The Light of Spring played at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022 in March and is currently playing at Five Flavours Film Festival in Poland where it can be viewed online in Poland (details here) until December 04th. At the festival, it won The Special Mention for the International People’s Jury award. To find out more on the background of the film, this interview was conducted with the director.

Thanks go out to Fumito Fujikawa for doing this interview and providing lots of background, to Takako Pocklington for translating between English and Japanese, and to the staff of Osaka Asian Film Festival staff for making the interview happen.

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An Interview with Sae Suzuki, Director of Strangers [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

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Sae Suzuki’s career as a filmmaker began when she enrolled in the Department of Body Expression at Rikkyo University and studied directing under director/critic Kunitoshi Manda. She then went on to study film directing under Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Nobuhiro Suwa at the Graduate School of Film and New Media, Tokyo University of the Arts and her graduation film My Identity (2019) was selected for the  Busan International Film Festival 2019 and Japan Cuts 2020. She is currently making films as a freelancer and her latest work Strangers played at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022.

Strangers is a melancholic but hopeful short film about people wrestling with experiences of sexual harassment, negative thoughts on gender and sex, and suffering in silence. Manami Usamaru of Sisterhood (2019) fame plays Yukie, a dental nurse from a rural town who flees her workplace with the clinic’s cash following sexual assault from her boss. A train transition leads her and us to Tokyo where she can be free to do as she pleases and so she changes her appearance and personality and meets up with a guy named Minato (Akihiro Yamamoto) who offers her day of non-judgemental companionship that allows her to process her negative feelings. It turns out that he has trauma of his own and together, as strangers, they offer each other hope for a new life.

The film comes at an interesting time as people in Japan take to SNS to talk more openly about difficult subjects like discrimination and harassment. Through excellent use of visuals and performers, Sae Suzuki allows audiences to enter into these difficult topics with a very thoughtful and beautiful film.

I would like to thank Sae Suzuki for delivering this interview in both English and Japanese and the efforts of Osaka Asian Film Festival staff for facilitating the interview.

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An Interview with Ryohei Sasatani, Director of SANKA: Nomads of the Mountains 山歌 [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

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Winner of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022‘s Japan Cuts Award, Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains is the debut narrative feature of Ryohei Sasatani. Originally getting his start with documentaries, he has released a number of works that concern themes of human beings existing within nature. After winning the Scenario Grand Prix at Isama Studio Cinema Festival in Gunma Prefecture, production on Sanka was set into motion and shot there.

The story is set in the summer of 1965 and revolves around a teenage boy named Norio (Rairu Sugita) who returns from Tokyo to his father’s family estate in Gunma and encounters three Sanka, nomadic folk whose lives are spent wandering around mountains and living off the land. It begins by chasing a spirited teenage girl named Hana (Naru Komukai) then meeting her father Shozo (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), and the wisecracking grandmother Tae (Yoko Ran). In contrast to a stern father (Kisuke Iida), a budding land developer, and a strict society that is modernising, these three outsiders offer an alternative family who teach the boy to live as part of nature as well as the customs of Sanka culture. This puts him on a collision course with his father who wants to develop the land.

What unfolds is a well-written story of Norio’s growth while under the influence of the Sanka people as he learns from them and reckons with his family ties to the land as well as the burgeoning economic boom that Japan is about to undergo. This story, with themes of environmentalism and the price of progress, also gives a snapshot of the Sanka way of life that has since faded. It is all couched in the gorgeous landscape of Gunma Prefecture which becomes a character of its own as the weather and locations create a deep impression. You can read my review here.

Sanka was due to play at the Japan Cuts festival of new Japanese film in New York but that has been postponed until next year. Since it is currently on release in Japan, the interview will be published now. In it, Ryohei Sasatani talks about the making of the film, from working with the elements, animals, and the rugged landscape to the philosophy he planted in the story and also a little about the Sanka people.

This interview was done with the help of Takako Pocklington’s translations.

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An Interview with Kahori Higashi, Director of Melting Sounds [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

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Deceptively simple but quite profound, Melting Sounds is a very moving yet quietly funny first feature film from freelance designer-turned director Kahori Higashi. In her work, she ruminates on the issue of mortality in a unique way: a patchwork family record sounds of everyday life in a small town to create a “sound grave.” This consists of a mismatched group of a young woman named Koto (xiangyu) an old man named Take (Keiichi Suzuki) and two others (Amon Hirai and Umeno Uno) recording everyday life on cassette tapes and burying them in the ground. The charm of the film is seeing how the characters gel together into a family while the film gains tremendous emotional resonance from discovering reason why they perform such an odd task. It definitely has the potential to move viewers to tears after a lot of chuckles.

The film is part of the most recent MOOSIC LAB competition and was featured in the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022 and Nippon Connection 2022. The cast is led by musicians xiangyu and Keiichi Suzuki, the former a rising electropop star who has collaborated with Wednesday Camponella, while the latter is co-founder of the rock band Moonriders and a soundtrack artist whose works include video games Mother (1989) and EarthBound (1994), and the film scores for The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003), Tokyo Godfathers (2003), Uzumaki (2000), and Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage trilogy. Considering that this is Higashi’s first feature film after making just a handful of shorts, it’s quite an achievement as she tackles a sensitive subject with a unique concept, a well-thought-out setting and use of nostalgia, and an ability to channel subtly comedic performances from her cast. You can read my review to find out more.

Ahead of its screening at K’s Cinema in Shinjuku (from July 16th), director Higashi goes into her background, the making of the film and explains where her ideas came from, working with the musical and acting talents, and the nostalgic items and sounds that mean so much to her. This interview was done with the help of Takako Pocklington’s translations.

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An Interview with Shuichi Kawanobe, Director of Our House Party [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022/Rainbow Reel Tokyo 2022]

Shuichi Kawanobe, director of Our House Party

Japanese cinema has many gay-themed films in its canon. Titles that come to mind include Hush! (2001), Okoge and Twinkle (both 1992), Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) and Afternoon Breezes (1980). We are also currently living through a boom in adaptations of Boys Love (BL) manga with titles like The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese (2020) and even stories about people who like the genre like BL Metamorphosis (2022). How many of these films reflect the true experience of gay men in Japan is up for debate but Our House Party (2022) definitely is an open and honest slice of life from the gay community and it is currently on the festival circuit.

Our House Party is an indie feature film from Shuichi Kawanobe, a graduate from the Fiction Course at The Film School of Tokyo. His filmography includes Offline (2014) and Lull (2017), the latter of which was selected for the SKIP City International Film Festival. In Our House Party, he channels his own experiences and research into the lives of a diverse group of gay men to bring to life the titular house party. Kawanobe works with his cast to give us glimpses of different types of gay men and then turns the party into a forum for the heartache of being gay in a conservative society. Audiences will find that it is a dramatically accomplished explosive moment of emotional release after being caught up in the various currents of the story and absorbed into the atmosphere of the party. This is thanks to writing that is easy to get into, the great performances of the cast, and cinematography from Masami Inomoto (A Beloved Wife (2020)) which places us in this intimate space. You can read more of my assessment in my review.

Following its screening at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022 and on the eve of its screening at Rainbow Reel Tokyo, director Kawanobe went in depth in this interview to talk about the origins of this film, working with his ensemble cast, and the dynamics of being gay in Japan. This interview was done thanks to the stellar work of translator Takako Pocklington and co-ordination of Osaka Asian Film Festival staff.

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An Interview with Azusa Hieda, Director of Summer Wedding [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

Azusa Hieda Landscape Shot

Azusa Hieda’a short film Summer Wedding received its World Premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022 where it was one of the few films to directly use the Covid-19 in its narrative. In her work, writer/director Hieda utilised social isolation during the pandemic to offer a space for two lovers, a bride (Rika Kurosawa) and her groom (Daiki Nunami), to change their lives in unexpected ways. Between a strong set and acting that carried emotions undercutting what should have been a happy event, audiences are able to read between the lines and experience a story rich in contrasting emotions.

A graduate of the Department of Broadcast Film Studies of Visual Arts Osaka, Hieda has worked on one short, Fuyu no Aka and a number of trailers. To explain more about her latest work, she took part in an email interview in Japanese and English. This was done with translation by Takako Pocklington.

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An Interview with Tetsuki Ijichi, Director of “Laundromat on the Corner” (2020)

Tetsuki Ijichi is a veteran in the international film industry, having worked as a, assistant director, producer, projectionist, publicist, and sales rep (amongst many other things) in Japan since the 80s. Now based in Philadelphia, USA, he is using his experiences to bring Japanese films stateside as the president of Tidepoint Pictures Don’t Look Up (1996), Noriko’s Dinner Table (2005) and Uzumaki (2000) – Rain Trail PicturesVideophobia (2020), Lovers on Borders (2018). I now have the chance to interview him but not for his important contribution as a film distributor but as a director in his own right as his short film, Laundromat on the Corner (2020) is available to stream on FilmDoo.

Laundromat on the Corner is a supernatural romance that effectively mixes Eastern and Western culture together for a film that could be said to be a modern twist on Ugetsu Monogatari (1953). The film, set in working-class Philadelphia, follows Josh (Eric Slodysko) a deep-in-debt down-on-his-luck desperate divorcee eager to escape his miserable situation as a put-upon home helper to a terminally-ill lady named Mary (Joanne Joella) and her daughter Beth (Heather Blank). Respite comes in the form of Ming (Stephanie Pham), a woman in a white dress who catches the eye of Josh at a laundromat he starts to use. Of course, there is more to Ming than meets the eye and it isn’t long before Josh finds the borders between life and death collapsing…

Having had the chance to review the film, I was eager to ask Tetsuki some questions relating to the making of it, his influences (a fellow horror film fan!) and his experiences of working in Japan and America!

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An Interview with Mai Nakanishi about Her Horror Short “SWALLOW”

As a horror film fan, Mai Nakanishi is talking my language. When I first saw HANA at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019, it stood out to me as an expertly crafted minimalist horror film given depth by having a subtext about motherhood and career pressure. When news of her latest film came to me, I was very much excited at the prospect of seeing more of her work and that work is… SWALLOW

SWALLOW is Nakanishi’s sophomore short film where the rivalry between two actresses culminates in them attending a banquet which one believes holds the promise of providing food that can sustain her youth. Underneath a bit of body horror lies a satire of our beauty-obsessed world which drives women to pursue youth and good looks at any cost. Expertly shot, this Taiwan-set film features an exquisite horror atmosphere of lavish sets drenched in red and a gripping short character study brought to life by excellent dialogue and performances. 

Mai_picThis is just the next step for Nakanishi who has worked in various roles, including as an assistant director for Eric Khoo and as a producer on the Japanese segments for the horror anthology ABCs of DEATH 2. Most tellingly, she is a founder and director of Scream Queen FilmFest Tokyo, an event which champions horror movies from a female perspective.

In the run-up to SWALLOW playing at forthcoming Skip City D-Cinema Festival, both online (July 21 – 27) and also on site (Convention Hall – 7/18, 13:50 – and the Audio Visual Hall – 7/22, 11:0o), as well as playing online at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (July 07-17). She generously allowed me the chance to watch her latest work and interview her about her fascination with horror, life after HANA, and the making of SWALLOW in Taiwan during Covid conditions, and much more.


Thanks for allowing me to watch SWALLOW”. I was really impressed by HANA– congratulations on Hanawinning the Goule D’or Directors Award at the 2019 Portland Horror Film Festival and Best Short Film at the 2018 Monsters of Film in Sweden! – and I was intrigued to find out where your career would go next, especially because I am also a fan of horror films. SWALLOWis your second work and it has won an award already at the Tampere Film Festival 2022 where it won a Special Mention in the Generation XYZ competition – so congratulations go out for that, too!

I’m grateful to get the chance to interview you and have a number of questions.

Looking at your career, horror films are your chosen metier. What inspired you to become a filmmaker and why focus on horror movies?

I actually started my career in film business with experiences ranging from marketing, programming and acquisitions of films for pay-TV broadcaster and international sales and acquisitions for film distribution companies. I’ve only been involved in filmmaking since 2013, where I had the opportunities to work with international genre stalwarts as a producer, assistant director and assistant production designer and before I knew it, I was directing “HANA”.

I’ve been a huge of fan of the horror genre since I was small. There are many great horror films containing hidden subtext and relevant social commentary beneath the thrills and scares which fascinate me.

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An Interview with Akinori Ikuse, Director of Out of Tokyo 202x [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

 

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A mood of optimism radiates from Akinori Ikuse’s 14-minute short, Out of TOKYO 202x, a time travel movie where two people from the future, Rika (Ucyu Imagawa) and Shin (So Morozumi), spend time together after meeting on the grounds of the Tokyo Olympic stadium. Their shared experience is both romantic and hopeful as they get swept up in the cheer and the happiness of an event that was surrounded by controversy given the Covid-19 pandemic. Benefiting from actually being shot on location, Ikuse brings viewers the sight of crowds of onlookers as well as special events like a fly-past by Japan’s Blue Impulse aerial acrobatics team. Beyond this, he manipulates the look and sound of the film to vibrantly convey the intense atmosphere of the occasion.

Ikuse took part in an interview where he explained the making of the film, his filmic inspirations, and what it was like to shoot on location at such a historic moment. This interview was conducted with the help of staff at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and via the invaluable translation of Takako Pocklington.

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An Interview with Yuko Watanabe, Director of BOY SPROUTED [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

 

Boy Sprouted depicts the battle of wills unfolds between a boy (Seitaro Hara) who dislikes tomatoes and his mother (Kanako Higashi) who is determined to make him eat them. Director Yuko Watanabe takes this everyday scenario and channels the boy’s aversion into a fairy tale nightmare aesthetic that is visually arresting and makes the film’s tone hover on the border between horror and bathos. The story itself comes from a Japanese AI named “Furukoto”, a bot that uses a neural network to create a story long enough to make a 30-minute short.

The film had its world premiere at Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF) 2022 and can currently be streamed online globally as part of Short Shorts Film Festival and Asia.

Yuko Watanabe took part in an interview where she went in depth into her background as well as the background of the film, explained her experience of working with an AI and a child cast, her ideas for the visuals, and influences in creating such a distinctive and enjoyable work. This interview was done thanks to the dedicated work of OAFF staff, the film’s producer Ryohei Tsutsui, and translator Takako Pocklington.

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