Thursday, July 12, 2012

JAPAN CUTS 2012: From Mainstream Mania And Genre Benders To A Post-3/11 Era

Join the Monsters Club that is JAPAN CUTS 2012. © 2011 GEEK PICTURES

“This year’s JAPAN CUTS festival is so varied in its programming that it’s anti-thematic”, says Samuel Jamier, Japan Society’s senior film programmer, and curator of the Society’s monster summer film festival, opening today in its sixth consecutive year.

The trailer for the festival says it all… by saying nothing and everything at once:

The shear diversity of 2012’s JAPAN CUTS films range from the decidedly popular Rebirth (winner of the Japanese Academy Prize for Picture of the Year) and uber-romcom Love Strikes!, to the grind(out)house Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead. Situated somewhere between these extremes is the “Focus on Post 3.11 Cinema” and “Anime from Hell”.

Jamier, who has curated three JAPAN CUTS festivals to date, notes “This year I have expanded the scope of the types of films we show. It is nice to have a reverential attitude towards the more serious films, but it is also good not to take yourself too seriously, and to always be on the lookout for something new and special. Previously, the only way to sample such a wide variety of genres and styles was to have actually lived in Japan. But I feel proud in bringing that variety to New York.”

A visit to the Japan Society between today and July 28 may indeed feel like a cinephilic trip to Japan as the 2012 installment of JAPAN CUTS is the largest ever presented with 39 films, 33 premieres 8 special guests, 3 award presentations and parties.

Something absolutely unique to the festival in the inclusion of documentaries and fictional films inspired by Japan’s March 11, 2011 earthquake and subsequent Sendai tsunami and Fukushima meltdown. With five features (Women on the Edge, Chips, A Gentle Rain Falls for Fukushima and No Man’s Zone) and a collection of shorts (We Are All Radioactive)--films all completed within a year of the disasters--it is surprising how such a wealth of quality work was created in such a short time span.

According to Jamier, “We now live in a post-3/11 era of creativity and there’s definitely a post-3/11 cinema happening .” He explains how during the tsunami tragedy, many amateur videographers shot footage of the disaster with their cameras and cell phones, creating their own documentation and narratives. The series of short documentaries We Are All Radioactive reflects this phenomenon. Filmmaker Lisa Katayama and her crew gave cameras to residents of Motoyoshi, a seaside town 100 miles north of Fukushima, to shoot the local scene after the disaster.

Jamier notes the post-3/11 era has also influenced films that don’t directly deal with the tragedy. “For instance, Yoshihiro Nakamura’s feature film Chips is ostensibly a comedy about a young man and his infatuation with a professional baseball player. But at the same time this comic story is being told, there is a weird ghostly space accommodating more serious subject matter. I attribute that to the influence of 3/11.”

Yakusho (l) in Woodsman. © 2011 Kitsutsuki to Ame Film Partners

At the center of the festival is the career of legendary actor Koji Yakusho, who will participate in a Q&A session and be presented with the first-ever Cut Above Award for Excellence in Film on July 21. Jamier says “I’m really excited and honored by the presence of Koji Yakusho, who is, in many ways, Japan’s leading actor.”

The festival features many of his classic films like Shall We Dance?, the director’s cut of 13 Assassins and Cure, as well as newer films like Chronicle of My Mother and The Woodsman and the Rain. “It’s amazing to see the consistent quality of his films through the years. By featuring Japan’s leading actor, we hope to demonstrate the importance of Japan Cuts in showcasing contemporary Japanese cinema,” says Jamier.

Other not-to-be-missed Q&A sessions include ones with Love Strikes! star Masami Nagasawa on July 14, Monsters Club director Toshiaki Toyoda on July 15, No Man’s Zone director Toshi Fujiwara on July 22, Roadside Fugitive SR director Yu Irie on July 22, and Leonie director Hisako Matsui on July 27.

The opening week party on July 14 will follow the sold-out screening of Love Strikes! and Q&A with Ms. Nagasawa, who won a Japanese Academy Award for her performance. The film, also screening July 22, was a blockbuster in Japan based on the enormously popular manga and television series of the same name (Moteki in Japanese). It follows the travails of a 31-year-old otaku who inexplicably experiences sudden popularity with women. Perhaps his goal of romance with the hip and kawaii Miyuki (Nagasawa) is attainable after all. The fun story is densely populated with pop songs, including a musical number performed by girl group Perfume, and visual teasers like scrolling Twitter messages and karaoke lyrics.

In a festival where Love Strikes! twice, it’s a bit overwhelming that there are 37 more possible hits. Luckily, several media outlets have produced their top choices from this year’s “cool slice of cinematic pie”, including the Wall Street Journal, Village Voice, and Twitch.

--Lyle Sylvander
Love Strikes! © 2011 TOHO CO.,LTD. / TV TOKYO CORPORATION / DENTSU INC. / KODANSHA Ltd. / Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc. / Office Crescendo Inc. / PARCO CO., LTD. / Yahoo Japan Corporation / TV OSAKA CORPORATION / TV AICHI CORPORATION 
モテキ© 2011「モテキ」製作委員会 

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