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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An Email Interview with Akihiko Yano, Director of “yes,yes,yes” [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

I wish I were better at writing about acting because every now and then I watch a film where there are astonishing performance that I am spellbound and profoundly moved. In those situations, I want to wax lyrical to do justice to what I have seen. Of course, every other aspect of the film counts, too. When I watched the drama yes,yes,yes I was not quite prepared for the actors who are, raw vulnerable, surprising, realistic, and honest.

Director Akihkro Yano worked with his cast closely and stripped away most movie artifice to get phenomenal performances to convey the emotionally intense situation in his script. The story concerns a family reacting to the news that the matriarch Sayuri (Nahoko Kawasumi) may die. This sets off emotional chain reactions that cause conflict, particularly with teenage son Takeaki (Kazuma Uesugi), before there is eventually, healing. It is a heartfelt story and it felt real. Indeed, it made me cry multiple times and gave a feeling of catharsis as I took in its lesson of learning to appreciate and love those around and thought deeply about people in my own life.

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Keep Rolling 好好拍電影 Dir: Man Lim Chung (2020) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Keep Rolling    Keep Rolling Film Poster

好好拍電影

映画をつづける Eiga o tsuzukeru

Release Date: 2020

Duration: 111 mins.

Director: Man Lim-chung

Writer: N/A

Starring: Ann Hui, Andy Lau, Tsui Hark, Sylvia Chang,

IMDB   OAFF Link

Compared to fellow Hong Kong auteurs like John Woo, Tsui Hark, and Wong Kar-wai, Ann Hui’s name isn’t as well known but this veteran filmmaker has quietly created a catalogue of varied works that have made her one of the most acclaimed directors in the world. Her most recent success is being a recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2020 edition of the Venice International Film Festival where her latest film Love After Love played. This accolade comes after a four decade career that has notable achievements such as winning Best Director at the Golden Horse Awards three times and Best Director at the Hong Kong Film Awards six times. With more film projects on the horizon, she shows no signs of slowing down despite the fact that she has reached the age of 73. Trying to get a handle on such a career is intimidating but the biographical documentary Keep Rolling provides the perfect entry into the life of Ann Hui.

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Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021 Announces Opening/Closing Films

The key visual of OAFF 2021 is an original art by Vancouver-based cartoonist Marc Bell.

The Organisers of the Osaka Asian Film Festival have announced details of the 2021 edition. The top headlines are:

It is going ahead in two forms, one physical and one digital

  • On screen (OAFF 2021 programs in cinemas): March 5 – March 14
  • Online (Selected films from previous OAFF programs): February 28 – March 20

The screen programs will consist of the Competition, Indie Forum, and other sections and special programs dedicated to emerging trends in Asian cinema.

The Online Programs will have a rich selection of works that have been screened at the Osaka Asian Film Festival in the past. These films will be available to rent for a limited time through VOD (video on demand) services via a streaming platform. The viewing period for these films is from February 28 to March 20 as “Osaka Asian Film Festival Online” and it will be available in Japan. The first title to bee announced for online screening is WHOLE, a drama about biracial people searching for their identity in Japan (here’s my review).

Due to the Coronavirus situation, there will be rules in place at cinemas to keep people safe and the festival’s program might change at short notice, so please keep an eye on the official site and also SNS: Twitter, Facebook etc.

Also announced were the OPENING and CLOSING films.

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Happy Old Year, Dir: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, Thailand (2019) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020]

Happy Old Year    Happy Old Year Film Poster

Release Date: December 24th, 2019

Duration: 105 mins.

Director: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

Writer: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit (Script),

Starring: Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Sunny Suwanmethanont, Sarika Sartsilpsupa, Thirawat Ngosawang, Apasiri Chantrasmi,

OAFF IMDB

Perched perfectly between satire and drama, Happy Old Year sees writer/director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit test the limits of ruthlessness needed to conduct the Marie Kondo minimalist lifestyle with a main character who is wholly unlikeable and yet, by the end, quite sympathetic.

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The Garden of Evening Mists 夕霧花園 Dir: Tom Lin (2019, Malaysia) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020]

The Garden of Evening Mists    The Garden of Evening Mists Film Poster

夕霧花園  Yugiri Hanazono

Release Date: January 16th, 2020 (Malaysia)

Duration: 120 mins.

Director: Tom Lin

Writer: Richard Smith (Script) Twan Eng Tan (Novel)

Starring: Lee Sinje, Hiroshi Abe, Sylvia Chang, Julian Sands, John Hannah, Serene Lim, David Oakes,

OAFF IMDB

The opening film of the 2020 Osaka Asian Film Festival is a handsomely shot historical drama featuring an international array of talent as they bring to life the same-named novel by Malaysian writer Tan Twan Eng. The Booker Prize shortlisted story takes place during decades of conflict in Malaysia and is seen from the perspective of one character caught in the grasp of its history and a risky romance. It is a hefty work so Taiwanese director Tom Lin and British writer Richard Smith adapt the material with a schematic approach that uses flashbacks to gradually reveal wartime secrets, traumas and the redemptive effect of love in a slow-burn story that ends on a satisfying note.

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Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 Announces Opening and Closing Films: The Garden of Evening Mists and Kamata Prelude

OAFF2020 top_main1_e

Earlier today, the organisers of the 2020 edition of the Osaka Asian Film Festival announced their opening and closing films, both of which are completely different in form and content. Here’s the information direct from the festival website.

Everything kicks off on March 06th with the Malaysian film, The Garden of Evening Mists, a historical drama featuring a pan-Asian cast and crew who have adapted the award-winning novel by Twan Eng Tan.

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Sayounara 左様なら Dir: Yuho Ishibashi (2018) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019

Sayounara    Sayounara Poster

左様なら Sayounara

Running Time: 86 mins.

Release Date: 2019

Director: Yuho Ishibashi

Writer: Yuho Ishibashi (Screenplay), Gomen (Original Manga)

Starring: Haruka Imou, Kirara Inori, Amon Hirai, Taichi Kodama, Nanami Hidaka,

Website IMDB

http://www.oaff.jp/2019/en/program/if05.html

Naturalistic acting, specifically using pastel colours and lovingly shot images of the sea are what dictate the ebb and flow of the drama in Yuho Ishibashi’s film Sayounara. Originally based on an SNS manga of the same name by the artist Gomen, Ishibashi took four characters and a few frames of the original and expanded its world to create a coming-of-age tale that is familiar in so many elements and yet a good example of a textured exploration of one person coming to terms with grief as life carries on around her.

Sayounara Manga Image

The muted visual tone of the film matches the temperament of the main protagonist of the film, high school student Yuki (Haruka Imou), a quiet girl who lives in a sleepy coastal town. The loudest noises are those of the waves of the sea and the laughter she shares with her best friend Aya (Kirara Inori), a cryptic girl who is soon to leave town. Their friendship is strong and a kiss snatched by Aya opens up all sorts of emotions in Yuki. Tragedy strikes when Aya commits suicide. In response, Yuki dives deep into herself and turns away from any turbulent emotions. Her classmates are also caught in the ripples of the event and react differently, some showing respect while others spread rumours.

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Interview with “Sisterhood” Director Takashi Nishihara and Star Manami Usamaru [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019]

Takashi-Nishihara-and-ManamiUsamaru-OAFF19

I conducted a number of interviews at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 and they were published over at VCinema. This one was published on June 06th and it is with the director and star of the film Sisterhood.

With inequality on the rise worldwide and identity politics a hot topic issue, filmmakers everywhere have their work cut out trying to keep up with the changes in their respective societies and there is a desire on the part of this writer to see films that tackle these issues from Japanese creatives. More social realist dramas and politics, to be blunt, especially in an era where the rise of individualism and poverty unbalances traditional notions of collectivism. Takashi Nishihara is a name that has cropped up quite often in this regard. Born in 1983 in Toyama, he is a graduate from the Department of Arts and Film at Waseda University in Tokyo. His filmography flits between documentary and drama but he usually focuses on those who find themselves made outsiders by the status quo of society and does so with a social realist bent.

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Interview with Akiyoshi Koba [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019]

I interviewed a number of people at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and these interviews are being published over at V-Cinema. This one was the first to go online on April 23rd.

Akiyoshi Koba is a graduate of Taisho University’s Japanese Language and Literature course. He now works as a part-time lecturer at Nagaoka Zokei University and indie filmmaker. His oeuvre is a series of titles that my be low on budget but are big in heart and invention. Koba strives to find what is special in small-town locations, collaborates with actors who feel like they are drawn from everyday life but have some unique feature, and uses set dressing and costuming that exudes a DIY aesthetic. Works like Slippers and Summer Moon (2015), Psychics Z (2016), and Tsumugi’s Radio (2017) typically mix comedy and sci-fi as well as drama. They have a charming simplicity and a love for their characters.

His latest title, Nunchaku and Soul (2019) is a continuation of this lo-fi storytelling and it is his best work to date. It features a mismatched pair of middle-aged guys, a nerd named Numata (Masahiro Kuroki) and a soul man named Soma (Atsushi Takahashi), who are determined to change their lives for the better by entering a dance competition. The differences in character and their reasons for entering are mined for low-key drama and lots of belly laughs. It also features a funky soundtrack. Nunchaku and Soul was recently screened at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 in the Indie Forum section. Despite its humble origins, it proved to be a hit with most of the audience who were treated to post-screening nunchaku demonstrations by lead actor Masahiro Kuroki and dancing given by director and cast.

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