Indie Forum 2019 Primer

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The Osaka Asian Film Festival will be held from March 8th to the 17th. The list of titles in each program were recently announced and, of course, the movies to be featured in their Indie Forum section are of the most interest to Indievisual. This year there are 10 films–7 features (one is actually a mid-length) and 3 shorts “by new innovative and challenging talents” according to the programmers. Here is a rundown of 2019 Indie Forum titles and a few other titles of note.

(Please click the titles to view the official OAFF 2019 page for each movie)

Demolition Girl

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©16bit.Inc

Fresh off Slamdance Matsugami Genta’s bold and creative take on teen angst makes its Japan premiere. Actor Kitai Aya won a Slamdance Acting Award Honorable Mention for her performance of Cocoa.

Hana

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©HANA 2018

A horror short featured at last year’s Sitges Film Festival, the premise is simple and those are often the most effective scares. This is also a Japan premiere.

Nunchaku and Soul

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Two men from two walks of life are brought together through nunchucks, soul music, and a dance contest. Let the comedy (hopefully) ensue. This is a world premiere.

Okinawan Blue

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A tale set on a serene island centered around three families, Kishimoto Tsukasa’s movie could be as warm and gentle as the Kerema Islands themselves.

Sayounara

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©映画「左様なら」製作委員会

In English, the title conveys the Japanese for “goodbye” as the story details suggest, but is also a clever play on words meaning “what if that’s correct.” Director Ishibashi Yuho’s gorgeous photographic eye is also in full display.

Shinjuku Tiger

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©「新宿タイガー」の映画を作る会

After appearing at Indie Forum in 2017 with his sophomore narrative feature, Her Mother, Sato Yoshinori returns to Indie Forum with the world premiere of his first feature-length documentary. If you live in Japan, you may have caught sight of the mysterious figure wearing a tiger mask in Shinjuku. This is that person’s story.

Sisterhood

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True life models, actors, and musicians talk about pressing women’s issues in contemporary society for a documentary film director. Nishihara Takashi attempts to blur the lines of fact and fiction by allowing the subjects to talk about their lives, but not as themselves.

Slowly

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©井上純平事務所

A 25 minute short by Fukuda Momoko taking its characters on a surreal road-trip down their own past.

Whole

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Two biracial men experiencing adversities living in Japan bond in Kawazoe Bilal’s short movie. The term “half” is often used to refer to people who are not “completely” Japanese. Kawazoe’s aim to depict these two characters on their journey to be “whole” is a thoughtful premise.

Wild Tour

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©Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media [YCAM]

The mid-length work produced under the auspices of the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media looks to take audiences on a tour of Yamaguchi Prefecture’s natural beauty.

The Housen Cultural Foundation supports the study and production of cinema in graduate schools. The movies screened in this section have been given support by the Foundation and admission is free. Among the four works presented in 2019, Zon Pilone’s Sadao seems the most fascinating. An intentionally enigmatic piece delving into cinema history, art, and sound in an abstract manner that will not fall into simple categorization.

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©”Jeux de plage” Film Partners

The Competition Section features an entry from Japan (rather a co-production between Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, and Korea): Jeux de plage. Once crowdfunded under the title “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and billed as a “girls destruction movie”, the Wa Entertainment (Hospitality, Chigasaki Story, Snow Woman) produced feature deals with the deep emotions running beneath the outward layers of young women through the story of their complicated ties to one another and others they meet. Director Natsuto Aimi, who has acted in Chigasaki Story and both acted and served as script supervisor on Snow Woman, makes her feature-length directorial debut.

The Closing Film is Daddy Issues, a Vietnamese movie helmed by Japanese director Ochiai Ken. After gaining attention on the world stage with Uzumasu Limelight, Ochiai followed up with the Vietnam movie Saigon Bodyguards which was a smash hit locally. Daddy Issues is an adaptation of Igarashi Takahisa’s novel ‘Papa to Musume’, which was adapted to film in Korea as Daddy You, Daddy Me. It tells the story of a father and daughter, diametrically opposites, who find they have switched bodies with one another.

Sadly, due to personal commitments I will not be able to attend the Osaka Asian Film Festival this year. However, I do hope to gain the cooperation of their press relations manager so that I may be granted permission to view online screeners and report my impressions of the Indie Forum lineup as I have done for the past two years. Please check the Indievisual Facebook or this blog for updates.

Catching Up with the Tiger and the Bear

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The two big festivals occuring at the start of the year have come and gone. While it would have been optimal to talk about the Japanese movies featured in each before either event began, the realities of pursuing Indievisual as a side project often means being a little late to the party. Nevertheless, here is an overview of the Japanese movies of particular interest to me here at Indievisual which were presented at the 2019 IFFR and Berlinale.

International Film Festival Rotterdam

Domains

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It has been 5 years since Kusano Natsuka released her award-winning Antonym. However, she is back with an even more intriguing movie that, while touching upon themes of friendship similar to Antonym, boldly upturns the conventions of structure and storycraft, marking Kusano as an inventive filmmaker who embodies the indie spirit. Click here for more information.

The Garden Apartment

In my thoughts regarding this movie after viewing it at OAFF 2018, I indicated the work as a whole, while visually competent (Ishihara Umi is a photographer and artist), seemed like a work-in-progress. The narrative shortfalls on view often plague visual creators who have little experience in cinematic storytelling. Whether those shortfalls have been corrected remains to be seen, but Ishihara’s visual style might be more suited to short form storytelling than feature length (see below). Click here for details.

The Pioneer

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At 27 minutes, Ishihara’s “glamorous dystopian sci-fi” tells a story set in an alternative Japan prior to the 2020 Olympics–a set up perhaps more suited to her artistic sensibilities. The stills and trailer certainly lend credence to such supposition. Details here

Memento Stella

Makino Takashi’s Bright Future entry appears to be a mid-length sound & visual experience and, by intention, an experience completed by each and every audience member’s own base of reference. Like Koyaanisqatsi but without concrete imagery, what the viewer takes away from the movie depends on what they bring inside of them to the theater. Click here for more information.

On the Border

A dialogue-less experimental piece making a simple statement with its simple imagery. Details here

Asako I & II

Much has been said about Hamaguchi Ryusuke’s unique love story. Those appraisals can be found around the internet. Suffice it to say, Hamaguchi, the director of Happy Hour and Intimacies, is sure not to allow the movie’s fascinating concept to play out simply. Find out more here

Killing

After Fires on the Plain, Tsukamoto Shinya takes on his first ever period film, but as always, through his distinct sensibility. And like his previous work, he steers the chambara genre to a new direction as it throws into relief the state of contemporary violence. Click here for details.

The Monster and the Woman

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©Visual Industry Promotion Organization (VIPO)

There is a monster terrorizing a village. The authorities seem ineffective to do anything. What does the titular woman intend to do about the monster? Ikeda Akira’s short seems poised to deal with prevalent social themes. Find out more here

Vulnerable Histories (A Road Movie)

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It may be difficult to categorize Tanaka Koki’s movie as fiction or documentary. The concept and execution seem to blur the lines between the two. However, unlike other Japanese entries at IFFR 2019 which also deal with Japan’s social issues, Tanaka makes no clever analogies, choosing instead to tackle the issue of an increasingly polarizing society directly through conversations between two people positioned by-and-large on the periphery of the “homogenous society.” Click here for more information

The Better Way Back to the Soil

Hirakawa Yoki assembles the titles of movies lost to time and presents them against a black background to form this 8 minute prose, equal parts cinematic and literary. Details here

Berlin International Film Festival

37 Seconds

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Director HIKARI’s empowering tale of a wheelchair bound manga artist finding a new sense of liberation is the kind of movie not often made or seen in Japan. Then again, HIKARI has spent quite some time abroad which could explain this atypical and endearing look at a young woman’s journey of self-discovery. Not only was this world premiered at Berlin, but it also took home the Panorama Section’s Audience Award as well as the C.I.C.A.E Art Cinema Award. Find out more here

Complicity

Chikaura Kei’s debut feature-length adds to the collective of titles dealing with the seemingly unofficial issue of migrants, foreigners, and immigration at festivals recently. Though not political in any regard, the China-Japan production is Chikaura’s contribution to discussions as told through the tale of a foreigner illegally in Japan connecting on a human level with the proprieter of a soba shop. It is perhaps a reminder those macrosm issues are first solved at the microcosm level. Read more here

We Are Little Zombies

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©”We Are Little Zombies” Film Partners

Four 13-year-olds who just lost their parents but can’t seem to feel anything decide to form a band in order to regain some semblance of emotion. Nagahisa Makoto follows up his unique And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool with this debut feature-length bursting with hyperbolic pop style yet grounded in genuine explorations of grief and loss. Sundance awarded the movie its Special Jury Award for Originality, which in a festival founded on independence and originality, is quite an achievement. More details here

Leaking Life

An animated short created through painted illustrations, Hayashi Shunsaku, who has won awards for his previous short movies including at Slamdance, plays with movement and textures over its 15 minute runtime. It seems as mesmerizing as it is delightful to watch. Find out more here

A Tiny Place That is Hard to Touch

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©Shelly Silver

Reading the synopsis for Shelly Silver’s movie at first paints it as the “culture clash” narrative one might expect from an American director filming a story in Japan. However, something happens either toward the middle or the final third in which the story, according to Berlinale programmers, “is hijacked into science fiction territory.” In this regard, there seems to be something more to Silver’s movie which certainly entices curiosity. Read more here