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

ID12_Sanka Nomads of the mountains_director (2)

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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SANKA: Nomads of the Mountains 山歌 Director: Ryohei Sasatani [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022] Rewrite

Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains    Sanka Nomads of the Mountains Film Poster

山歌(サンカ)Sanka

Release Date: April 22nd, 2022

Duration: 77 mins.

Director: Ryohei Sasatani

Writer: Ryohei Sasatani (Screenplay),

Starring: Rairu Sugita, Naru Komukai, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Kisuke Iida, Shungiku Uchida, Yoko Ran,

Website

Films featuring the clash that occurs when the forces of modernisation meet tradition and the natural world are myriad. From the magical movies of Miyazaki and Takahata with Princess Mononoke (1997) and Pom Poko (1994) to indie films like Tetsuichiro Tsuta’s The Tale of Iya (2013) and Akio Jissoji’s Poem (1972), it is a perennial theme.

Documentarian Ryohei Sasatani enters the fray with Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains, his debut narrative feature film based on his script which won the Scenario Grand Prix at Isama Studio Cinema Festival in Gunma Prefecture. His structurally solid and visually enthralling story channels this conflict through the dramatic self-actualisation of the film’s young protagonist who is caught between the drive for the future and the last gasp of a fading past.

Set in the summer of 1965, we see the return of Norio (Rairu Sugita) from Tokyo to his father’s family estate in Gunma as he prepares for his high school entrance exams. Alongside a few items of physical baggage like textbooks, we notice that Norio lugs the emotional weight of adolescent alienation as shown via his distant attitude to others, the bruise on his face from schoolyard bullies, and his inability to focus on his studies. His teenage angst brews away in the confines of the traditional house he has decamped to and the hothouse atmosphere becomes even more stifling in the presence of his overbearing father (Kisuke Iida), a war veteran and amateur industrialist bent on revitalising the nearby town.

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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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Melting Sounds ほとぼりメルトサウンズ Director: Kahori Higashi [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022] Rewrite

Melting Sounds        Melting Sounds Film Poster

ほとぼりメルトサウンズ Hotobori Meruto Saunzu

Release Date: July 16th, 2022

Duration: 80 mins.

Director: Kahori Higashi

Writer: Kahori Higashi, Yuichi Nagatsuma (Screenplay),

Starring: xiangyu, Keiichi Suzuki, Amon Hirai, Umeno Uno, Tadashi Sakata,

Melting Sounds is part of the latest wave of films associated with MOOSIC LAB, a competition wherein the films submitted feature up-and-coming directors who have created works that fully utilise the music of rising musicians. Like many previous films associated with the competition, the story muses about mortality but writer/director Kahori Higashi finds a truly novel approach to the subject-matter and utilises the film’s musical artist xiangyu perfectly by channelling her cute style and electropop sounds to temper the sadness of the narrative.

 

It all begins on a quiet winter’s morning in Kiryu, a rural city in Gunma Prefecture, when a young woman named Koto (xiangyu) arrives at her late grandmother’s home for a solo getaway trip from the city. Upon opening the place up she disturbs an old man named Take (Keiichi Suzuki) who has pitched a tent in the garden from which he ventures out to record sounds of everyday life in the town through an array of analogue recording devices. Once recorded on cassette tapes, the sounds are buried in the ground to create “sound graves.” Koto, intrigued, joins in.

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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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Summer Wedding 恋がする Director: Azusa Hieda [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022] V-Cinema

Summer Wedding    Summer Wedding Film Poster

恋がする Koigasuru

Release Date: 2022

Duration: 17 mins.

Director: Azusa Hieda

Writer: Azusa Hieda (Screenplay),

Starring: Rika Kurosawa, Daiki Nunami,

Azusa Hieda’s profound short film Summer Wedding uses the Covid-19 pandemic as a prompt for the self-reflection and change in its main character.

The titular summer wedding should be a happy affair but it is rife with countervailing emotions stemming from its setting. This wedding is a makeshift event held not in a church but in a suburban house due for demolition. Furthermore, its participants, a less-than-blushing bride (Rika Kurosawa) and her lover (Daiki Nunami), seem uneasy around each other. “If it weren’t for Covid, we wouldn’t be here,” says the bride wistfully as she prepares her own cake and directs the unofficiated, unattended, and, ultimately, melancholy ceremony.

Summer Wedding Film Image Rika Kurosawa Continue reading “Summer Wedding 恋がする Director: Azusa Hieda [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022] V-Cinema”

Melting Sounds ほとぼりメルトサウンズ Director: Kahori Higashi [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

Melting Sounds        Melting Sounds Film Poster

ほとぼりメルトサウンズ Hotobori Meruto Saunzu

Release Date: July 16th, 2022

Duration: 80 mins.

Director: Kahori Higashi

Writer: Kahori Higashi, Yuichi Nagatsuma (Screenplay),

Starring: xiangyu, Keiichi Suzuki, Amon Hirai, Umeno Uno, Tadashi Sakata,

Much like many of the previous films released under the aegis of MOOSIC LAB, like Dong Teng Town, Soul Music, and Sleeping Insect, Kahori Higashi’s Melting Sounds mixes music with low-key dramatic ruminations of mortality and ties everything together with a quirky character. Said quirky character is played by xiangyu, an electropop star and frequent collaborator of Suiyobi no Campanella, who offers her offbeat music and cute personality to a film that is cute and quietly devastating as it gets into the issues of losing things before offering a life-affirming way of rescue.

The story begins in Kiryu, a rural city in Gunma Prefecture, one winter when a young woman named Koto (xiangyu) arrives at her grandmother’s former home for a solo getaway trip from the city. Upon arriving she is met by the sight of a cardboard tent set up in the garden, the proprietor of which is an old man named Take (Keiichi Suzuki). Less oddball and more archivist, he has an array of analogue recording devices with which he records sounds of everyday life on cassette tapes before burying them in the ground to create “sound graves.” Koto, intrigued, joins in.

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The Residents 暮らしの残像 Director: Kahori Higashi [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

The Residents

暮らしの残像 Kurashi no Zanzo

Release Date: 2022

Duration: 16 mins.

Director: Kahori Higashi

Writer: Kahori Higashi (Screenplay),

Starring: Toma Hirose, Yukimi Soma, Rin Oka, Shinoka Mashima, Tiffany Fujimoto,

IMDB

In a case of the English title being a better fit for the film, Kahori Higashi’s short film The Residents hides a powerful twist that the Japanese title gives away. What initially starts as a simple comedy of manners drawn from a deluge of quirky characters in one location turns out to be something more as viewers get to know more about the titular residents. 

The Residents Film Image

What do you get when you stick housewife, a flautist, a hostess, two lovers, and an aspiring actor in a cramped apartment on a sticky hot summer’s day? While this sounds like the set-up for a convoluted joke, it is the beginnings of a melancholy tale.

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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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