Tokyo-based rapper SEEDA used his life to inform his hit 2006 album Flowers and Rain and he goes a step further as all of this forms the basis of this autobiographical film which exhumes some painful memories to show how he made his first album which was informed by his life of crime and his sister’s own struggle.
The film begins in media res with the main character beat up pretty bad before he explains how he got to this point.
Isamu Hirabayashi moved from the world of advertising and graphic design to indie films in 2001 and has made a number of shorts that have been selected for festivals like Locarno and Berlinale. Shell and Joint (2019) is his first feature and it is a truly unique title that shines with a visual opulence derived from someone with an eye for framing and a deep consideration for angles and colours, while its script shimmers with a comedic wit that tackles universal themes in a variety of genres and tones, as brought out in a series of stories that are enhanced by the look and sound of the film.
Opening proceeding are Nitobe (Keisuke Horibe) and Sakamoto (Mariko Tsutsui), two people who have been friends from childhood who now work together at the front desk of a capsule hotel. Nitobe has a particular fondness for philosophy and crustaceans while Sakamoto is fixated on suicide and winding up her friend during their long conversations. They form the manzai duo whose interactions rise in silliness as the film keeps revisiting them while guests come and go.
In 2017, the Japanese word karoshi, death from overwork, entered the global lexicon when news organisations covered the case of advertising firm Dentsu which was fined by a Tokyo court for violation of labour laws following the suicide of an overworked employee named Matsuri Takahashi who had been clocking up 100 hours a month in overtime prior to her death. Her story came out around the same time as the one of NHK journalist Miwa Sado who died two years earlier after she logged 159 hours of overtime in a month. Analysts, public health experts and cultural commentators published articles stating that they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Although karoshi is a term that has been around since the 70s, the unhealthy work culture that results in depression, suicides or strokes amongst workers has been identified as being linked to the post-war economic miracle when employees were asked to dedicate their lives to their jobs. However, in the 90s after the economic bubble burst, things worsened as worker protections were sacrificed on the altar of free market capitalism and people were chewed up by their employers. In response to this, and a falling birth rate, the government has introduced measures to give employees more time off work. Things have yet to get better.
One filmmaker who has been tracking stories of everyday people being sacrificed for the economy is Tokachi Tsuchiya who started out as a freelance videographer and became a documentary filmmaker with his award-winning debut A Normal Life, Please! (2009) where he exposed the exploitation of workers through an average truck driver named Nobukazu Kaikura who was made to work by his company “552 hours a month without benefits or sick pay, a regime that barely affords him time to wash or eat” (source). The film covered Kaikura’s decision to join a worker’s union and the unsavoury characters hired by his company who tried to crush the workers who were simply defending their rights.
Since then, Tokachi has worked for an NPO making films about capitalist exploitation and state oppression while also doing “making-of” videos for Momoko Ando’s 0.5mm and Gen Takahashi’s Court of Zeus. With An Ant Strikes Back, he is back with a story of a worker who fought for years for better treatment at his job after horrendous exploitation and mistreatment and it is a shocking eye-opening insight into unfair labour practices in Japan and how unions protect workers.
An Ant Strikes Back starts with a prologue that introduces some sobering facts about karoshi before introducing the director to viewers and here he relates how his friend “Yama-chan” was a victim a number of years before. We understand that his perspective will be a factor in understanding karoshi. Then we are introduced to the worker “ant” at the heart of the film, Yu Nishimura.
The design and feel of a book is very important. Although it usually takes second place to the ideas in the text when we discuss what we read, elemental things involved in the physical aspects of the book, such as the texture, typography and images, confer a vital character onto the text that captures a reader’s interest by stimulating their senses and placing various demands on their attention. The writer’s intent is being mediated through the perspective of the designers, editors and bookbinders involved in bringing it to the shelf. This is something we might not normally think about but the wonderful documentary book-scissors-paper proves to be an enlightening and enthralling exploration of this part of the publishing process by offering up a portrait of a world-famous book designer and his work to elucidate these ideas.
book-scissors-paper is the sophomore feature of Nanako Hirose, one of the young talents at Bunbuku-bun, the production house set up by Hirokazu Kore-eda. It is where she worked on features such as Like Father, Like Son, Our Little Sister, After the Storm and Miwa Nishikawa’s The Long Excuse, it is also where she made her debut feature, His Lost Name, which recently toured the festival circuit. That she made a documentary about book covers seems like something completely out of left-field until one discovers that her father was a book designer and that the subject of this documentary, Nobuyoshi Kikuchi, was responsible for many of the covers on the books in her parents’ house. From this personal background comes this documentary which is a tribute to the art of book design.
This post is an offshoot from the earlier this week and it focuses on all of the documentaries that will be screened. Check out each description to see if each film is available for worldwide screening because quite a few of these are.
This section brings together a really diverse range of subjects and themes like art and culture, feminism, workplace rights, mental health, refugees fighting for recognition and a man in a campervan trying to forget a failed love. There are three shorts and 11 features. Book-Paper-Scissors and An Ant Strikes Back are polar opposites in content and ones I want to see. Actually, I want to see all of these films!!!
There are a lot of great films on offer and many of them are available for global audiences to stream. Here are details on the features:
The 20th Nippon Connection will take place from June 09th to the 14th and the organisers will take the event online for a Virtual Anniversary Edition. Over the course of six days, Nippon Connection Online will play a total of 70 feature-length and short films from a variety of genres to give a good overview of the trends in Japanese cinema.
The films will each be available to view via the video on demand platform Vimeo in exchange for a small fee. The period of availability lasts for a full 24 hours from the moment they are purchased. They will all be available during the duration of the festival, although some titles will be region-locked, something I will detail below. There will also be the chance to get in contact with the filmmakers behind the titles since they will be in contact with the audience via video messages, discussions and live broadcasts. There will also be a variety of online events, including workshops, lectures, performances, and concerts and a virtual marketplace which will present a wide range of offers related to Japan.
Many of these films will be available for audiences to watch around the world.