An Interview with Shinji Imaoka, Director of A Rainbow-colored Trip [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Despite knowing that low-budget films are often shot very quickly, when I saw that Shinji Imaoka was going to be at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021, I was surprised at how quick his return was since he was at the 2020 edition with the drama Reiko and the Dolphin for which I had interviewed him. Of course, since he has a background in making pink films he knows how to do a quick turnaround on a production but an even bigger surprise lay in the subject of his film: a divorce as seen through the eyes of a child done by way of the musical genre. That and it was one of at least four(???) films he made in 2020!

Shinji Imaoka A Rainbow-Coloured Trip

The film is a star vehicle for starlet Yuune Sakurai who takes on the role of Haruka, an 11-year-old girl who is navigating experiencing the sensation of love for the first time while her parents Nobutaka (Ryujyu Kobayashi) and Kumiko (Yuri Ogino) are about to divorce. The sweetness and bitterness come together over one weekend spent with the fractured family at a campsite. The emotions come out when people burst into song and dance. A musical about divorce? I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before but it works. However, it is a title that may prove divisive as Sakurai gives the sort of beyond-her-years performance that some people will be bowled over by while others may find too artificial to take seriously. Also, girls that age don’t act like that. It depends upon your perspective, ultimately. You can read my review here and also a playfulness as music video sequences and cute on-screen text and images are used. 

While working on the review and interview, three other films by director Imaoka were discovered and two were released: Yome wa, Toriatsukai chuui! Part 1 & 2 and Aoi-chan wa yarasete kurenai. It’s all very impressive and so I wanted to find out more about the background of A Rainbow-colored Trip and how director Imaoka worked with his talented cast, getting some great performances from newbie actress Yuune Sakurai and veteran Yuri Ogino (East of Jefferson and Human Comedy in Tokyo)  and also get some insight.

This interview was done with the help of Takako Pocklington, the talented interpreter who worked on the Reiko and the Dolphin interview and most of my other interviews.

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An Interview with Yutaro Nakamura, Director of A NEW WIND BLOWS [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

There were two films by actor/writer/director Yutaro Nakamura at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021. They shared actors such as An Ogawa (For Rei) but wildly diverged stylistically. The first, Sweet Bitter Candy, was a standard-issue drama of bad romance and schoolgirls while A New Wind Blows featured a storyline that was wayward and dreamy and clearly shot guerrilla style in the suburbs. It was punctuated with scenes that offer visceral emotions, surprising twists, and a eccentric-cum-humanistic bent that made it stand out.

The film introduces us to a set of characters – Yujiro (Yujiro Hara), Hikari (Hikaru Saiki), Takaya (Takaya Shibata), Anzu (An Ogawa), and Kotaro (Yutaro Nakamura, the director himself) – who are cycled through in a number of stories where they get together and alternately torment and fall in love with each other, first as high schoolers and then as young adults later, before returning to them as high schoolers. Mental illness, prejudice, and literal bed hopping take place and there are extremes of emotions that go from normality to very dark. However, as scenes and sequences slip by, there is a sense of care and comfort and possibility. You can read my review here and also a playfulness as music video sequences and cute on-screen text and images are used. 

A New Wind Blows An Ogawa and Yutaro Nakamura An Ogawa and Yutaro Nakamura at the Premiere of A New Wind Blows

Yutaro Nakamura took time out of his schedule to answer questions relating to A New Wind Blows.

This interview was done with the help of Takako Pocklington, who translated between English and Japanese to help bring director Nakamura’s answers to this blog.

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A New Wind Blows 新しい風 Dir: Yutaro Nakamura (2021) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

A New Wind Blows  A New Wind Blows Film Poster

新しい風 Atarashii Kaze

Release Date: April 29th, 2021

Duration: 66 mins.

Director: Yutaro Nakamura

Writer: Yutaro Nakamura (Screenplay)

Starring: Yutaro Nakamura, Hikaru Saiki, An Ogawa, Takaya Shibata, Yujiro Hara,

OAFF

A New Wind Blows was one of two films by Yutaro Nakamura at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021. An actor, writer and director, these films mark his ninth and tenth efforts in the director’s chair. While his other work Sweet Bitter Candy was a standard drama, A New Wind Blows presented an intriguing indie youth story that mixes the dreams and madness of teens in Tokyo in a narrative with some darkness and a lot of optimism.

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Among Four of Us 4人のあいだで Dir: Mayu Nakamura (2020) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Among Four of Us

4人のあいだで 4-Ri no Aida de

Release Date: April 23rd, 2021

Duration: 40 mins.

Director: Mayu Nakamura

Writer: Mayu Nakamura (Screenplay)

Starring: Fusako Urabe, Nahana, Kota Kusano,

OAFF IMDB

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a number of high concept movies using the reality of lockdown situations to try new spins on old stories with social media platforms playing key roles. At the outset we had Zoom seances (The Host), actors in isolation making a horror film via videos recorded separately and edited together (One Cut of the Dead Mission: Remote), and, later in the pandemic, actor’s on the same set voicing the SNS comments their characters write as they experience a tentative romance mediated by the internet (Here and There).

Most of these films will be curios of an age where many of our interactions were confined online due to lockdowns but Mayu Nakamura’s 20-minute short Among Four of Us feels both specific to our moment and also timeless as strong writing and performances create a profoundly sad examination of the human condition.

The central conceit of the film is a socially distanced late-night conversation that takes place between three friends, Koji (Kota Kusano), Fusae (Fusako Urabe), and Nanae (Nahana). 20 years previously, they were in the same drama club in college. Since then they have gone their separate ways with Fusae and Nanae having given up and settled down to domesticity while only Koji is still acting. Haunted by lockdown loneliness and an incident with a fourth member of their theatre troupe, Koji attempts to resurrect the friendly and fun nature of their former relationship with beers and a laidback talk in a park.

Koji (Kota Kusano)

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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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Young Birds 雛鳥 Dir: Eriko Izumi [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Young Birds

雛鳥Hinadori

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 80 mins.

Director: Eriko Izumi

Writer: Eriko Izumi (Script),

Starring: Nanaho Otsuka, Jeremy Wang, Nanami Hidaka, Urara Matsubayahi, Saki Kato,

Website

Young female directors are gaining ground in the male-dominated Japanese film industry and nowhere is this more in evidence than in film schools across the nation where women make up an increasing number of students, a great example being Aya Miyazaki and her university work Good-Bye (2020) which has now entered cinemas on a theatrical run.

Eriko Izumi is one of the latest names to emerge with her debut feature Young Birds. It is an original work produced by herself and 12 students, some from China and Thailand, at Digital Hollywood University over a year and a half. While rough around the edges, it presents an easy-to-understand coming-of-age drama examining the insecurities felt by a young woman trying to find her path in life.

Young Birds Film Nanaho Otsuka

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An Interview with Masashi Komura, Director of POP! [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

For the last few years, Osaka Asian Film Festival has been screening MOOSIC LAB films. These works are the result of the pairing together of up-and-coming directors, actors, actresses, and musical performers into a unit to create a movie. The final products are almost always idiosyncratic in some way since they are the results of the combined talents of whoever has been grouped together. This year’s entry was POP!, a quirky drama featuring dry comedy and existential angst. It plays on the unique combination of director Masashi Komura (小村昌士), lead actress Rina Ono (小野莉奈), and DJ/producer Aru-2.

Rina Ono takes the lead role of Rin Kashiwakura, a 19-year-old who is on the cusp of turning 20, the official age of becoming an adult. With the approach of such a momentous occasion in her life one would expect excitement but what she feels is frustration and confusion as she struggles to understand how she fits in with others and the world at large, and just what she wants to do. An early dream of becoming an actress has become side-tracked and she works part-time as an official mascot on a struggling local TV charity program and part-time at a remote mountainside car park where nothing much happens. An encounter with a mad bomber leaving explosive packages around town gives her some impetus to move forward.

This description may seem full of random elements but they are deliberate and filmed in such a way by Masashi Komura that they form a collage of situations that form the entry point into Rin’s existential crisis – nothing seems to join together story-wise, long sequences happen in empty locations, and scenes can be devoid of propulsive action and sound and time. At its centre is a strong yet reticent performance from Rina Ono who keeps our attention. Overlaying everything is the downtempo lo-fi musical tracks of of Aru-2. Its lazy beats, samples, and various audio imperfections are indicative of both what a person Rin’s age might listen to and also how she feels. When combined, at times, this experience is frustrating, tiring, and confusing but there is also a lot of humour and heart as Rin struggles to make sense of things. These myriad of emotions reminded me of what I felt in my own adolescence. In short, the film had successfully made me feel Rin’s existential crisis as she tries to pull herself out of her stagnant life and move forward like the adults around her. The final result is a truly unique film (my review).

I wasn’t the only one, it seems. The film won the Grand Prix and Rina Ono also nabbed the Best Actress Award at the MOOSIC LAB awards, thus showing that quality of the film. Director Masashi Komura kindly agreed to take part in an interview to explain how the different elements of the film match up and he furnished many interesting answers.

A relatively new filmmaker, Komura has worked on a number of projects including co-writing the screenplay for The Man Who Was Eaten, which was featured at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2016, writing and directing the 2017 film LEO, and appearing in Ken Ninomiya’s The Matsumoto Tribe (2017). Komura talked more about POP!, how the project came together, his inspirations, his approach to manipulating time, and working with Aru-2 and gifting his sound to audiences.

Masashi Komura, director of POP! at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021

This interview was done with the massive help of Takako Pocklington, who translated between English and Japanese to help bring director Komura’s answers to the page.

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A Rainbow-colored Trip にじいろトリップ Dir: Shinji Imaoka (2021) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

A Rainbow-colored Trip      A Rainbow-colored Trip Imaoka Film Poster     

にじいろトリップ Niji-iro Torippu

Release Date: 2021

Duration: 39 mins.

Director: Shinji Imaoka

Writer: Shinji Imaoka (Script), 

Starring: Yuune Sakurai, Yuri Ogino, Ryuju Kobayashi, Outa Saiuchi,

OAFF Link   Website

Premiering at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021, Shinji Imaoka’s short film A Rainbow-Coloured Trip feels like it is a response to his previous work, the downbeat and dour drama Reiko and the Dolphin, which premiered at the same festival a year earlier. While that film charted the dissolution of a marriage following the death of a child, A Rainbow-Coloured Trip takes the same story archetype but tells it from a child’s perspective and with upbeat musical sequences.

A Rainbow-colored Trip Yuune Sakurai

Haruka (Yuune Sakurai) is an 11-year-old girl who is experiencing the first blush of love with a boy in her class. Despite feeling a giddy sensation of joy over this, she finds herself dragged down by the fact that her parents Nobutaka (Ryujyu Kobayashi) and Kumiko (Yuri Ogino) are about to divorce. It is a situation she will be stuck with over a weekend. 

As a family, they are taking one last holiday together in a cabin in a nature park at the foot of Mount Fuji but her parent’s constant bickering makes Haruka head deep into the forest that surrounds the campsite to escape them. Her destination is a special waterfall where she can pray to a dragon god for her family to start over again but can life really be so simple? 

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An Interview with Satoko Yokohama, Director of “Ito” [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

While getting a World Premiere in the Competition section of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021 would be a sign of quality for director Satoko Yokohama and her film Ito, her work ended up taking two high-profile accolades at the event as judges awarded it the Grand Prix (Best Picture Award) and viewers selected it for the Audience Award. These wins are richly deserved as Ito laces a youth film and a heartfelt tribute to all-things Aomori around a charming central performance from rising actress Ren Komai (駒井蓮).

In the film, Komai plays Ito Soma, a high school girl who lives with her father (Etsushi Toyokawa – 豊川悦司) and maternal grandmother (Yoko Nishikawa – 西川洋子) in a small town just outside Hirosaki city, Aomori. Ito embodies various aspects of the local culture, from having a thick Tsugaru accent to an innate skill in playing the Tsugaru shamisen, an ability inherited from her late mother.  Alas, Ito refuses to practice and stays silent due to her embarrassment over her country roots and also her melancholy over never having known her mother. What puts the girl on the path of self-acceptance and self-expression is an unlikely job at a maid café where she meets a coterie of kind people who offer encouragement and get her to embrace her cultural and family heritage on her own terms. You can read my review here

The film is based on a novel by Osamu Koshigaya and while its Japanese title “Itomichi” was shortened to “Ito” for the international version, the story still communicates all of the charms of Aomori. It is the latest project from Satoko Yokohama (横浜聡子), a graduate of the Film School of Tokyo who independently produced her first feature German + Rain (2007) which won the Directors Guild of Japan Newcomer Award. Next came Bare Essence of Life (2009) and The Actor (2015) which have both been screened at international festivals. Both she and lead actress Ren Komai hail from Aomori Prefecture, the setting of the film and audiences will be able to detect their knowledge and closeness really brought out deep details and atmosphere.

Director Yokohama kindly took part in an interview where she talked about adapting the novel, working with Ren Komai to get a moving portrayal of the main character plus an impressive shamisen performance, and what it means to be a filmmaker from Aomori and returning there to shoot a film. 

Satoko Yokohama at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021 Satoko Yokohama at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021

This interview was done through the translation skills of Takako Pocklington and the film/festival staff who set everything up.

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Over the Town 街の上で Dir: Rikiya Imaizumi [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Over the Town    Over the Town Film Poster

街の上で Machi no Ue de

Release Date: April 10th, 2021

Duration: 130 mins.

Director: Rikiya Imaizumi

Writer: Rikiya Imaizumi, Hiroyuki Ohashi (Script), 

Starring: Ryuya Wakaba, Moeka Hoshi, Kotone Furukawa, Minori Hagiwara, Seina Nakata, Ryo Narita, Hirobumi Watanabe,

OAFF Website IMDB

Very rarely the setting of a film, Shimokitazawa is a trendy little district in western Tokyo that lies in the shadow of Shibuya and Shinjuku. Home to independent shops, theatres, cinemas, live music venues, bars, and restaurants, the place vibes with youthful energy as students, actors, second-hand booksellers, and bar owners, all with a seemingly average age of 20-something, engage in artistic revelry and nights of frolicking. It is also a place constantly changing as commercial redevelopment is ongoing – when I last visited, a new station and an adjacent department store were being constructed – and it has its quiet parts. It is a slice of Tokyo different from everywhere else in the city.

Using Shimokitazawa as his sandbox, director Rikiya Imaizumi brings us Over the Town, his latest film and his second in 2021, which is full of characters and locations you would encounter in real life.

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