Thursday, July 14, 2011

JAPAN CUTS 2011: Peeps & Parties

Can we get a what-what for our 1, 2, … 3 Points after party?

This year’s JAPAN CUTS film festival exceeded expectations opening weekend, selling out 7 of 10 screenings and hosting the wild Yakuza Weapon Party with appearances by co-directors Tak Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi.

Along with a multitude of screenings through July 22, there are several more special guests attending this year’s fest, including some of Japan’s top filmmakers and actors and actresses who take part in exclusive Q&A’s and post-screening parties.

Following the international premiere of ThreePoints on July 15, director Masashi Yamamoto and actress Sora Aoi will take part in a post-screening Q&A and and may stick around for the rockin' 1,2...3 Points after party.

Yamamoto’s career has spanned a period of almost three decades since his debut film Carnival in the Night (1983). Aoi is an internationally renowned celebrity whose roots in the Japanese AV industry propelled her career to pinku eiga then to television dramas, and finally to mainstream entertainment. She has even branched off into the music industry (namely pop). Her performance in ThreePoints can be seen as her branching into more dramatic and serious films

Following the North American premiere of The Seaside Motel on July 16, director Kentaro Moriya will take part in a Q&A session. Since Moriya began his career in music videos it is no surprise that his films reflect the same essence of flash and style that encapsulated his earlier career. The Seaside Motel stays true to this ideal as it fully embodies Moriya’s signature flair.

Also on the 16th, the international premiere of A Liar and a Broken Girl will host director and writer Natsuki Seta and actor Shota Sometan, who introduce the film and take part in a Q&A. The film is characteristic of Seta’s stylistic audacity as it boldly fuses teen romance with serial killer horror.

Directly prior to the New York premiere of Haru’s Journey on July 20, director and writer Masahiro Kobayashi will make a special statement paying homage to the victims of the recent earthquake in Japan (the film was shot in the Tohoku region prior to devastation by the 3/11 tsunami). The screening will be followed with a reception that includes the appearance of his regular co-producer (and wife) Naoko Kobayashi. Half of all ticket sales for this screening will go to the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund.

In addition to the 1, 2, … 3 Points after party, the festival will conclude with the festival concludes with the  JAPAN CUTS Loose Closing Night Party following the final film Into the White Night. Details will be announced next week, so stay tuned and hope to see you there!

--August Dinwiddie

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Echoes of Devastation: Japan Four Months After The Quake

Sendai before and now. Via.

The recurrence last weekend of a powerful earthquake followed by a small tsunami in the same regions of Japan which were hit four months ago briefly brought Japan back into the news, although there was fortunately little damage and no reported injuries or deaths this time.

It was a reminder that the current situation in the tsunami zone remains a grim one for many. The slowness of the government’s provision of basic relief to those affected by the catastrophe has forced many locals in the affected areas to fend for themselves and roused private industries to take action.

Matters have not been helped by such occurrences as the resignation of Japan's disaster reconstruction minister within a week of his appointment (after his threats to withhold aid to boroughs which did not have good ideas for reconstruction) and the government’s difficulties implementing a program of stress tests for nuclear plants. With potentially decades remaining for the cleanup of nuclear materials within Fukushima alone, it is quite possible that we may see an increase in local citizen initiatives as a matter of pure necessity.

Fortunately, changes to the laws governing the tax status of Japan’s non-profit organizations (NPOs) are due after the flood of over 480,000 volunteers into the earthquake zone was met by a confused and often obstructive response from some local officials, many of whom were unprepared to accept help from outside official channels. Where the impetus from the Kobe earthquake of 1995 led to the first explosion in NPO numbers after new legislation was introduced in 1998, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami appears set to make Japan’s 80,000 or so civil society organizations more effective.

This cannot come soon enough for residents at the Shizugawa High School Evacuation Center in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture. Four months after the small fishing port of Minamisanriku was virtually wiped out, the survivors live in a 3,000-aquare-foot location housing 40 families with no running water. Supplied by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces with food and medicine and still going into work or school where possible, the evacuees face an uncertain future, as the government has yet to decide whether or not the residents can rebuild in the tsunami affected area or if they must relocate. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that victims such as the former inhabitants of Minamisanriku will require significant assistance in the short and possibly the long term.

Reporting Recovery Now and Ahead

One hopes that the potential for another disaster so soon after the first may refocus world attention from the economic costs and high-level political effect of the quake to the plight of the individual Japanese at ground level.

While media coverage has dwindled in comparison to the struggles facing many in Japan’s northeast, there has been a surge of optimistic stories amid dire situations coinciding with the four month anniversary.

The New York Times profiles Sendai’s steady recovery and examines how Japan is solving the problem of approximately 27 million tons of debris created by the tsunami. Similarly, The Wall Street Journal profiles the hard-hit city of Rikuzentakata, which lost a tenth of its population.

EastAsiaForum looks at the crises’ impact on the U.S.-Japan alliance, focusing on synergy between Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military.

Asahi reports on the outpour of support from the Japan Expo in Paris; and the touching story of a father’s desire to restore his daughter’s piano—the only thing left in their home after the tsunami.

The Times
also carried related technology and sports coverage, profiling Google's responses to disaster stricken Japan, and showing how baseball has brought stability to students displaced by the tsunami.

We’ve recently begun receiving updates from the organizations that have received support from the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund.The Japan NPO Center announced support to six local NPOs in the Tokohu region, and JEN reports from their work in Ishinomaki.

These personal stories are absolutely necessary to aid and illustrate the revival of the devastated regions of Japan. As much as possible, this blog will balance major events in Japan’s recovery with individual accounts from those experiencing and taking part in reconstruction first-hand.

--Tobias Voss

Thursday, July 7, 2011

JAPAN CUTS Lands + Under-The-Radar Gems

© 2011 “Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha” production

Japan Society’s fifth consecutive JAPAN CUTS film festival (July 7-22) is the world’s largest festival of Japanese cinema, featuring 33 screenings, 32 films, 31 premieres and an array of special guests and exclusive parities.

Highlighting the wild diversity and extreme artistry of Japan’s newest movies and encompassing “the hard, rough, sharp, smooth and soft edges of today’s Japanese film scene,” the selection ranges from eye-popping blockbusters to jarring genre flicks to heart aching indies.

Samuel Jamier, Japan Society’s chief film programmer who curated the festival, said “a substantial number of titles this year can’t be easily categorized or confined to strict genre boundaries.” In a video interview (below), he also hoped the festival gives audiences “the most original and creative” examples of what’s coming out of Japan today.

As with years in the past, JAPAN CUTS 2011 includes several co-presentations with the New York Asian Film Festival, including the sold out July 7 opening film Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha: The Great Departure, an animated adaptation of Tezuka’s spectacular and philosophically deep manga of the Buddha (also screening July 10); the “almost impossible to define” Milocrorze: A Love Story July 10; and JAPAN CUTS’ first sell-out Gantz, a grindhouse adaptation of a popular Japanese manga that pits teenagers in trendy black leather costumes with advanced war gear against aliens hiding on Earth.

Opening weekend also contains some not-to-be-missed gems, such as Love & Loathing & Lulu & Ayano (July 8), an intricately plotted tale of an introverted, shy office worker who does part time in the porn industry. The noiseful Ringing in their Ears (July 7) revolves around a rock group competing with managers, obsessed groupies, shut-ins, single parents and kindergarten teachers as they prepare for a concert.

Firefox News’ Peter GutiĆ©rrez, who has been writing about the festival since its inception in 2007, featured some of his favorite under-the-radar fare (including Sword of Desperation, A Night in Nude, Torso and Birthright), and Steve Dollar writing for The Wall Street Journal had this to say:
The series also offers less easily characterized films. The 4½-hour "Heaven's Story" marks a serious turn by director Takahisa Zeze (known as the "King of Pink" for his softcore sex comedies), who maps a sprawling revenge drama about a little girl who comes of age obsessed with the serial killings of her family. Sora Aoi, the AV idol (sex star) turned mainstream actress, stars in Masashi Yamamoto's "Three Points," an episodic drama that surveys the lower depths in three Japanese cities. Likewise, Kazuyoshi Kumakiri's "Sketches of Kaitan City" brings a realist eye to the working-class struggles described in the fiction of the late Yasushi Sato.
--August Dinwiddie

Note: JAPAN CUTS opens today. Tickets can be purchased online, through the box office at 212-715-1258, or in person at Japan Society. Members receive $3-$4 discounts, and if you purchase five tickets or more, you get $2 off each ticket (only for orders made by phone or in-person). Also, we’re testing out a new screen so enjoy the new view!
Gantz tix already gontz! © 2011 Gantz Film Partners