Friday, July 27, 2012

JAPAN CUTS Goes Down With The 'Space Battleship'

Someone just found  out JAPAN CUTS is about to end. Image © 2011 Monkey Town Productions / Women on the Edge Production Committee.

As the sixth and largest ever JAPAN CUTS film festival heads into its final days, it presents arguably the quintessential range of new films from Japan. After tonight's sold-out screening of Leonie, a lyrical biopic about famed American sculptor Isamu Noguchi's mother, the festival concludes Saturday, July 28, with five films.

Lonely Swallows, receiving its U.S. Premiere, is a documentary following the "heartbreaking, devastating and hopeful" stories of Japanese-Brazilian kids living in Japan, and the complicated, often-ignored immigration issues that surround them.

Women on the Edge and A Gentle Rain Falls for Fukushima, both North American Premieres from the "Focus on Post 3.11 Cinema Series", are fictional narratives that use the Fukushima crisis as a backdrop, clarifying and commenting on the main stories. The former film was shot in director Masahiro Kobayashi’s family home in the disaster-stricken area and tells the story of three estranged sisters who gather for an unplanned reunion. The latter stars Kosuke Toyohara as an architect who runs away from his creditors and meets a host of quirky characters, including a young woman who claims that he is her son. Both films deal with unconventional interpersonal interactions and familial relationships.

In a previous article, festival curator Samuel Jamier commented on the emergence of "post-3/11 cinema" that encompasses not only documentaries but fictional films as well. Expanding on this he says, “Unlike what happened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., there was an immediate response in Japan from filmmakers to 3/11 disasters–to archive, to record, to deal with the trauma–interesting for a country in which distance, hindsight, caution, are so often emphasized. On top of that, major filmmakers (like Kobayashi with Women on the Edge and Yoshihiro Nakamura, whose Chips was featured earlier in the festival) took a 180 and remolded their narratives to 'accommodate' the story of 3/11. A few years from now (and this might also be true outside the film industry), there will likely be a pre- and post-3/11 era. I’m not sure if it’s a fracture or a new beginning, but it’s a major turning point."

The screening of Gentle Rain is preceded by the documentary short We Are All Radioactive. A few months after the quake, director Lisa Katayama filmed a group of surfer-turned-activists as they started to rebuild their coastal town of Motoyoshi. Katayama also gave cameras to a group of residents in town to shoot their own personal vignettes.

Also premiering in North America Saturday is Taichi Suzuki’s The Brat!, a uniquely dark comedy. Hiroki Konno plays Daisuke, a young documentarian who blames his unsuccessful career on his ugliness. He regains his sense of worth when he coaches a young actress named Momoko (Sayaka Toshiro), who is starring in a film by a more successful and better-looking rival. Suzuki’s off-kilter stylistic camerawork and Konno’s deadpan performance make for a subversively entertaining film.

"Overall, this year has been a tremendously fun and rewarding experience," says festival curator Samuel Jamier. "I think we found the right balance between big blockbuster titles and indies, and the final day of the festival reflects that equilibrium: on the one hand we have a bold, from-out-of-nowhere indie title like The Brat!, on the other hand the star-studded, multi-million sci-fi flick, Space Battleship Yamato."

The live action rendition of the classic TV anime Space Battleship Yamato has already sold out tomorrow's North American Premiere screening. Sporting a spectacularly huge budget of ¥2 billion, the movie was an enormous hit in Japan, even beating out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at the box office. The storyline reads like a Japanese version of Battlestar Galactica, as the brave ship Yamato travels the galaxy looking for a planet that will save humanity from the evil alien Gamilons. Special effects and breathtaking action sequences abound in this audience-pleaser.

As the Yamato sets sail, JAPAN CUTS 2012, like all good things, must come to an end. Until next year… owari!

--Lyle Sylvander 
© 2010 "Space Battleship Yamato" Production Committee.

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