By Eden Law (Fukushima-ken, 2010-11). After the JET Programme more than fulfilled its promise of “an experience of a lifetime,” Eden returned to Sydney, Australia, where he joined the JETAA New South Wales chapter to take advantage of the network and connections available to undertake projects such as an uchiwa design competition for the Sydney Japan Festival. He also maintains the JETAANSW website and social media. Other than that, he’s a web designer and a poet, gentlemen and raconteur.
Like a springtime wave of hanami Down Under, the 17th Japanese Film Festival began showing in staggered releases nationally in Australia, blooming first in Broome in late September, before displaying a full bouquet of film delights in the major metropolitan areas of Sydney and Melbourne. This is the first time that the festival has launched a national program, ranging from a mini ensemble of three films for small towns like Broome and Cairns, to a behemoth 33 new films and five classics in major cities like Melbourne and Sydney, which means the festival will run from 17 Sep to 8 Dec as it tours around Australia. Many of the new films will be shown for the first time in Australia (aw, you spoil us, Japan Foundation, you really do!). In addition, at this time of writing, the five classics will be shown for free, allowing even the most penniless hipster to get a gander and drop a casual mention at the right fashionable dinner parties.
With so many new films, many of which aren’t known outside of Japan (trust me, I’ve Googled this), how will you know which to watch and be informed like the sophisticate that you no doubt are? Well, for a start, check out the screening schedules for all the films in your (nearest) city. But fret not, gentle reader, for I shall explore some of the selections on show.
Based on a True Story
Documentaries and dramatisations based on true stories feature strongly in this year’s program. A Boy Called H, which won Special Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival 2013, is based on Kappa Senoh’s best-selling autobiography about growing up in World War II-era Kobe. Closing some of the larger programs, Fruits of Faith is based on a novel inspired by a true story of a fruit grower who tries to achieve the impossible dream of the perfect crop of organic apples, despite skepticism and threat of bankruptcy. Reunion, based on a journalist’s accounts, is an illustration of how individuals strive to retain their humanity and compassion in the face of unrelenting misery and death in the wake of the Tohoku disaster. Leaving no eye dry at last year’s Montreal Film Festival, it’s a good way to see if life has yet to crush all feelings out of your bitter husk. And for anyone who has ever treasured a truly good bowl of ramen (especially after a long night of clubbing in Tokyo—the Japanese equivalent to our 4 a.m. kebab), the documentary The God of Ramen will inspire not just food lovers, but anyone who’s ever had an all-consuming (hah!) passion.
Anime and Adaptations
As every intelligent person knows, anime are not cartoons but fully mature films that stand on their artistic and dramatic merit. Now that we all agree on that, much of this year’s anime and live action adaptations cheerfully avoid any attempt to do so (with the exception of Studio Ghibli’s Arrietty, available only in the mini programs). They instead go for blockbuster merit, like the long-awaited Gatchaman live action film (or as it was known outside of Japan, Battle of the Planets to those of us geriatric enough to remember), and Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods. But the biggest battle of all is saved for Library Wars, which features librarians engaged in deadly fights over that single most precious resource: books—THE WAY IT SHOULD BE.
Thrills, Crime and Suspense
For those who loved the breakthrough Japanese horror film Ring, director Hideo Nakata returns with The Complex to moisten your beds and inspire your nightmares. The critically acclaimed Devil’s Path shows Japan can make a crime drama as good as anyone, as a journalist is led down a dark and increasingly violent road as he hunts down a psychopath. Also included are two films known on the international film festival circuit: REAL, a dreamlike thriller that takes place in the subconscious of a comatose patient; and Shield of Straw, an tense action-packed tale of a group of police officers who have to protect a convicted paedophile against a vigilante nation bent on collecting his head. The Brain Man, despite the title, deals with the psychology of an emotionless, coldly brilliant killer in a taut, gripping thriller that’s gore-explicit with a high degree of violence.
Romance, Feel-good Movies and Comedies
If the cesspits and depravity of the human soul are a bit heavy for you, maybe this is more to your liking (you lightweight). The Great Passage is an internationally acclaimed film by Yuya Ishii about an awkward loner working on completing a Japanese dictionary who gradually finds worthwhile the distractions of making human connections and a growing romance. A Story of Yonosuke is a nostalgia film about the eponymous hero, whose gentle nature affects everyone who knows him (and hopefully you, the viewer) with goodly feels. The Apology King explores the very Japanese concept of dogeza, the most über- of all apologies available to express one’s sincere regret, in an over-the-top and rapidly escalating farce. And speaking of über-, Beyond the Memories has everything every romance fan wants: good-looking heartthrob stars, tragic back stories, and the struggle to just make it work against all odds—and it’ll be better than Twilight.
The classics shown at JFF are gems from the acknowledged masters of Japanese cinema, which includes the character-driven drama of Lightning; a martial arts samurai film about the legendary Zatoichi in The Life and Times of Ichi the Masseur; and Elegant Beast, about a scheming, greedy family, a film considered avant-garde for its time.
The “I Can’t Even…” Category
No Japanese film festival can dare be complete without a special foray into the “what the [CENSORED] did I just watch??” territory. Presenting for your perusal, Maruyama the Middle Schooler, a collection of bizarre and surreal scenarios that I can’t even begin to describe here, but apparently based on the rather earthy imagination of a teenage boy. Next up is HK: Forbidden Superhero, the male answer to Go Nagai’s classic Kekko Kamen manga, in which a superhero…wears women’s panties…on his head…to become the ultimate super pervert of justice. Yea, you just read that. Featuring the shapeliest man-buttocks yet to grace the screen, HK’s Golden Balls of Justice will teabag its way into your memories.
So many films, so little time. This year’s JFF looks to be the best yet, with much more quality fare not mentioned here, so do yourself a favour and check out the site at www.japanesefilmfestival.net!