27TH TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL : SHINING A SPOTLIGHT ON JAPANESE ANIMATION (PART 2)
27TH TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL : SHINING A SPOTLIGHT ON JAPANESE ANIMATION (PART 2)
Even one of the biggest international movie festival throughout Asia still needs more audience. Though TIFF has its way to combine the various movie genres in the line-up, unlike any other festivals, some of non-commercial art ventures and local independent films may look harder to find their way in reaching more admission numbers. The special focus on Japanese animation was another concern, mostly for overseas audience, but with the huge success of ‘Frozen’ in Japan cinemas, this might be the right time to bring more of those recognitions.
To cope with this, as Yasushi Shiina said, this year’s festival packs more events and exhibitions around the main venue in Roppongi Hills. From the food-vaganza in ‘Tokyo Cinema Cuisine’ event, music shows to World Cosplay Summit as TIFF’s side events and exhibits, and more stage appearances, they are aiming wider attention. The summit that was established in 2003 to promote a new kind of international exchange through cosplayers all over the world has the increasing number of participants over the years, and for this year, the cosplayers from 22 countries and regions will glam up the festival venue. Even the choice of the idol band ‘Arashi’ as the festival ambassador, was meant to get more of the media coverage.
And luckily, this year’s TIFF has got a big support by the Japan Foundation partnerships. Known as an independent administrative institution whose purpose is to promote international cultural exchange and mutual understanding between Japan and other countries, Japan Foundation could help them reach more awareness from overseas, and even to showcase more Japanese movies to other Asian countries.
Bringing the new project series named ‘Crosscut Asia’ to the festival, this program will focus on Asian film from various angles including countries, themes, directors and actors. Over seven years until 2020, Asian films will be presented with a different theme each year. In its inaugural edition, the subject is ‘Thai Fascination’ which brought the evolution of modern Thailand cinema scene today.
Under the direction of Ishizaka Kenji, professor at Japan Institute of the Moving Image whose also the programming director of Asian Future and World Focus, eight Thai films that represent their cinema achievements were chosen in this new section.
Moreover, Kenji said that each section of the showcase has their own particular conditions. While the Special Screenings may focus on the status of Asian or world premiere as the primary criteria, Asian Future and World Focus took more concern on the theme of the film among the quality of the chosen ones. Being not far from the social issues about cornered people which runs around the competition films, by the people, politic and other causes, these sections represent a global trend in the industry, where most of these issues could gain more attention from the audience.
The Samurai Award Special Talk Session with Takeshi Kitano
Receiving this year’s inaugural Samurai Award with US director Tim Burton, Japanese famous actor Takeshi Kitano leads the special talk session about the now and future of Japanese Films. Held in the Tower Hall, Academy Hills, Roppongi Hills 49F, Kitano was also joined by Tony Rayns and Christian Jeune, both the jury members for Japanese Cinema Splash sections, and winners of PFF Award and three student film festivals in Japan.
The event began with a talk session between Kitano and the students who won various film festivals in Japan such as PFF (Pia Film Festival), Tokyo Student Film Festival, TOHO Cinemas Student Film Fetsival and Kyoto International Student Film Festival. Kitano said that he believes in creating what he wants to create, but also knows the importance of accepting what he doesn’t like, and not everyone should have the same taste in making movies. That there were always other opinions and perspectives in filmmaking. Answering some questions from these young filmmakers, Kitano then said ‘The more objective you are, the less you’ll push yourself into a tight corner’.
Tony Rayns and Christian Jeune then tells their first encounter with Japanese cinema through their teenage years, with Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi films, and also to Kitano’s films. With such familiarity towards Japanese cinema, they both shared their outlooks on what’s to come of the Japanese film industry. Telling the future of Japanese and other cinema lies in the hands of young people who are going to reinvent cinema themselves by teaching them how to make a film, they emphasize these students to not be afraid of the reviews. Jeune added that the directors nowadays have their own way of telling stories, what they want to say and how they want to say it.
Kitano then said, ‘When I began shooting films, the reviews I got were awful, and Tony Rayns was the first person to give me postitive appraisal and to this day, I feel deeply indebted to him. The point is, you never know by who or when your films will be well-received, which is why young filmmakers should follow their heart and shoot what they want to’.
About the spirit of independent filmmaking, Rayns stated that young filmmakers should pursue new channels of film distribution, and a recommendation in making a breakthrough is as simple as make good films so the world will notice. Kitano closed the session saying ‘In making movies, you can listen to advice, but don’t forget that you are the creator of your own film. What’s best is to build your own world which may lead to answers’. In his true Kitano style : ‘I won’t tell you to keep at it because you see, it’s best to nip the buds!’
Pikmin Short Movies Event with Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto
Although not too popular to overseas audience, Japan anime lovers will not have failed to notice the adorably perky and colorful characters named ‘Pikmin’, who began appearing on TOHO Cinema movie screens across Japan since 2013, arranging the letters in the cinema logo before being chased away by a giang polka-dot monster sporting 3D glasses.
These kawaii creatures, a race of part-animal and plant named after their iconic word ‘pik min!’, a bit like the word smurf in ‘The Smurfs’, populated an earth-like planet and discovered by Captain Olimar, a tiny extraterrestrial whose spaceship crash and landed after being hit by a comet were created by Shigeru Miyamoto.
Known as the father of the Nintendo video games including Super Mario Bros, the best-selling video game franchise of all time, Donkey Kong and later, Wii console, Miyamoto has been around in Japan videogames industry scene since the late 1970s. Through each era of video games development, his design for video games and systems was so influential, critically acclaimed and also become the global industry standard throughout the world. Pikmin have been the stars of their own 3D strategy game, published by Nintendo since 2001, with the player controlling Captain Olimar.
Joined Miyamoto in this event, a packed premiere screening of Pikmin shorts at TOHO Cinema Nihonbashi, was Nobuo Kawakami, founder of gaming platform Dwango and Niconico Douga, Japan’s first profitable online video-sharing service. In the special talk session after the screening, Miyamoto explained the way Pikmin was moving from game consoles to movie theatres as the future of the franchise and animation industry at large. Started from the E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in Los Angeles, Miyamoto created a short movie with Pikmin following him from the dressing room to the stage, then he made Pikmin stickers that allow people to add the characters to their own photos and films.
While releasing its new 3DS controller, Nintendo offered Miyamoto the making of short films as well, where he then worked with the TK3 animation company to create ten three-minute shorts. Realizing that the movie making is very different from interactive games, the process took quite a long time to draw. Miyamoto said that he could’ve finished two new games for one three-minute short movie.
And the base was always his childhood memories, how to create something that could be enjoyed by all ages, including parents and children. But he never forgot to introduce some Japanese culture including the Ramune (Japanese cider) bottle, that appeared in the second of the movie shorts.
Adding this special talk event, Kawakami also showed the audience a 3D animation trailer for an upcoming NHK TV series titled ‘Ronja Roverdotter’, directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki. Kawakami, who produced the show, explained how they combine the idea with a number of people of NHK to create something new to the 3D animation platform.
At the end of the session, answering Kawakami’s question on whether Nintendo plans to move into feature-length 3D animation, Miyamoto answered there were some possibilities of that, however, longer movies would be time-consuming which they have to come up with a lot of surprises to keep them interesting. For a while, Miyamoto said maybe he could ask people to send a lot of ideas and drawings and see if they could make it into a global project.
Seven Film Directors in Japan Special Program : Seven Samurai
Like the previous years, this year’s TIFF also celebrates Japanese classic cinema. Screening Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai’ on Academy Hills, Roppongi Hills 49F to mark its 60th anniversary, the movie was presented by seven selected directors considered to have special achievement in their film industry over the last few decades, in a special talk event.
Those names were Eiichiro Hasumi, Takashi Miike, Tetsuya Nakashima, Keishi Otomo, Sang Il-lee, Takashi Yamazaki and Daihachi Yoshida. Hasumi was known for the romantic ‘Umizaru’ series, Miike, who’s made over 80 films including ’13 Assassins’, ‘Hara-Kiri : Death of a Samurai’ was famously known with his gonzo styles, Nakashima for the Oscar-shortlisted ‘Confessions’, Otomo for this year’s twin megahits, ‘Rurouni Kenshin : Kyoto Inferno / The Legend Ends’, Lee for Japanese remake of Clint Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven’, Yamazaki for ‘The Eternal Zero’ and Yoshida for the multi-award winning ‘The Kirishima Thing’ and also the director of ‘Pale Moon’, Japan’s only entry in this year’s TIFF competition section.
Selected by TIFF to showcase the continued excellence of Japanese films, the special event was led by Lee, Otomo and Yamazaki. Besides talking about the Japanese film industry in general, they also discussed their personal thoughts on Akira Kurosawa, from his famously known principal to not compromise for the integrity of his films, to their personal favorites among Kurosawa’s movies.
Movie Reviews :
FORCE MAJEURE (2014, Ruben Ӧstlund, Sweden-Denmark-France-Norway)
Only if you have seen Ruben Ӧstlund previous works, you wouldn’t expect ‘Force Majeure’ as a traditional disaster flick like a bunch of its promotional footage. But being an important part of the plot explored, this prize winner at Cannes revealed an emotional flow of avalanche beyond human struggle in a bond of relationships, raising questions about men and women’s gender stereotypes over marriage life.
Plays out over a five-day vacation of a looks-like perfect family at a stunning Alps snow mountain, the husband Tomas (Johannes Bah Kunke) and his wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) suddenly find themselves in a much more difficult situation after one disastrous event.
A subtle script and handsome directing from Ӧstlund never miss its marks over a distinctly quiet and beautifully eerie atmosphere by Fredrik Wenzel and Fred Arne Welgeland’s visually stunning cinematography. Diving deeply to create more challenging questions in human bonds and relationship, Ӧstlund precisely calibrated every situation and characters, played naturally and emotionally convincing by the actors, in his metaphors of avalanche. Like an avalanche that could finish in seconds, but the risk of collapse, is never vanished. A must see entry in this year’s TIFF’s World Focus.
RIVER OF EXPLODING DURIANS / LIU LIAN WANG FAN (2014, Edmund Yeo, Malaysia)
Sounds like a show of Malaysian culture, this competition entry about a group of youth being caught in the middle of political activism introduced the full-length feature work of Edmund Yeo, known as a new and promising independent filmmaker in his region.
Yeo sure had peculiarly wild ideas and something to say in this film, but rather felt like a still-waters and full of Asian arthouse-cliches, the story which is divided into parts connected by Ming (Shern Koe), a middle class boy that has a big crush for a fisherman’s daughter, Mei Ann (Joey Leong), their friend Hui Ling (Daphne Low) and her favorite teacher, the idealistic headmistress Lim (played by Taiwanese actress Zhu Zhi-ying) sometimes seems a little out of focus and not all-effective. The chaos demonstration scene near the end was also felt a bit unrealistic.
However, how each plot intertwined beyond a backdrop of slowly rising protest in Malaysia’s social, industrial and political issues that heads to a darker path was kept restrained, but never forgot to show us Malaysia’s distinctive mix of cultures, languages and religions in an independent cinema’s attempt to create more gentle pace and natural conflicts. Not that special, but very much worth a look.
THE CONNECTION / LA FRENCH (2014, Cédric Jimenez, France – Belgium)
Titled ‘The Connection’, it’s ‘La French’ in French, with the story of a police magistrate Pierre Michel (played by Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin) teams up with a bunch of clean cops (one of them played by Benoit Magimel) in battle to take down Marseilles’ ‘The French Connection’ ‘70s drug ring, you guess. This film is a French flip side, a Gallic take on William Friedkin’s classic crime thriller.
However, like the director Jimenez said in his special appearance with actor Gilles Lellouche (played the untouchable kingpin Gaetano Zampa), he never wanted to do a remake to Friedkin’s film. Instead, the real characters portrayed in this film were a lesser-known Euro side of the story. Inspired by his own father who owns the French club in the ‘70s, Jimenez has created something closer to Scorsese’s crime thriller that never depends on the action.
This big-budget France-Belgium production also never touched the gritty exploration in Friedkin’s owned classic. But being closer to a French old fashioned crime saga, the film stands out with the well-crafted production values to create the ‘70s set and all of its aspects including the kinetic camera work by Laurent Tangy, gloriously shot in 35mm, and the soundtracks, the mix of American and French ‘70s retro-hit, with much lesser violence. A slick and quite intense period-crime thriller.
KYOTO ELEGY (2014, Kiki Sugino, Japan)
This is not very usual, that an actress turns producer and director has made two full length-feature over a year as an entry to some world’s largest film festival. Started her producing – directing debut besides ‘Taksu / Yokudo’, a drama set in Bali and photographed by Indonesian independent director Sidi Saleh, which screened at the Busan International Film Festival, Kiki Sugino’s ‘Kyoto Elegy’ was based on the award winning novel ‘Manganiku to boku’ wirtten by Shiki Asaka.
In the surface, this story about a man and his eight year long span relationship with three women may look like a romantic comedy, but deeper than that, ‘Kyoto Elegy’ draws its plot over women’s fears in various kinds of symbiotic relationships, and also project the distortion of many ideals in Japanese society. A very feminine looks that at many times, seem lost in unnatural descriptions by the twisted and unlovable characters, but at the same time, also triggered our sense to look deeper at every relationship we had in life. Kiki Sugino played the female character named Satomi over her fatty makeovers.
THE MIDNIGHT AFTER (2014, Fruit Chan, Hong Kong)
Known as an independent Hong Kong second wave filmmaker that has a special style portraying the everyday life of Hong Kong people in his wild and sometimes daring films, director Fruit Chan now comes with a post-apocalyoptic satire in ‘The Midnight After’.
Based on the novel ‘Lost on a Red Minibus to Tai Po’, originated as serialized web fiction by an anonymous writer who goes by the pen name Pizza, about the last 17 people in a public vehicle while the rest of humanity suddenly vanished, ‘The Midnight After’ tells the aftermath of the mysterious event.
Like Chan’s other filmography that played on genre mishmash but still left his special marks on cartoonish satire, for some, ‘The Midnight After’ may look like just a sci-fi horror flick that plays on pulpy atmosphere, but deeper than that, instead of speaking causes, Chan draws many aspects of cultural decadence in his society over more behaviorial study of its characters. With solid acting from senior actors such as Simon Yam, Kara Hui, Lam Suet and a bunch of new talents, and the tunes of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ evoking the claustrophobic isolation theme, this is Chan returned to what he did best, with more twists and turns.
AS YOU WERE (2014, Liao Jiekai, Singapore)
A Singapore entry to this year’s Asian Future section marks the other successful credentials of their independent filmmaker Liao Jiekai from ‘Red Dragonflies’ (2010). Tells a story about a childhood sweethearts who spend their last moments together after years of being apart and became a couple, the film reflects a meaning of change in memories and relationships.
Using lots of metaphors over experimental ways in storytelling to describe those themes beyond the beautiful look of St. John’s Island in Singapore’s idyllic and historical landmarks, for some, might be moving a bit too slow in its episodes, but nevertheless, also has a strong descriptions to Singapore new wave and independent film scene these days.
ABOVE THE CLOUDS (2014, Pepe Diokno, Philippines – France)
As one of the most exceptional filmmakers in Phillippine cinema’s new trends, the script of ‘Above The Clouds’ received the Arte Prize at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival, as well as an Asian Cinema Fund grant from Busan last year. Set over an overnight hiking journey up a cold mountain between a grandfather and his 15 y.o. grandson after losing their loved ones, the film tells a struggling story in dealing with griefs.
As a very personal journey inspired by the 2009’s Typhoon Ketsana that hits Diokno’s hometown Manila, the film marks a strong chemistry and performance between Pepe Smith and rising young star Ruru Madrid. However, the emotion, one that should be needed more in these themes, was kept a bit too restrained at times. It is indeed a choice to emphasize the class on Arthouse genre, but the result, lessen the conflict in becoming more engaging.
IN THE ABSENCE OF THE SUN / SELAMAT PAGI, MALAM (2014, Lucky Kuswandi, Indonesia)