Yabusame is an exhibition of Japanese horseback archery wherein riders at full gallop shoot arrows at stationary targets. It is said roots of the event can be traced back to the 6th Century. Today, it is both a stunning presentation of power, skill, and pageantry as well as the preservation of tradition, culture, and Shinto spiritualism. It is martial arts elevated to its most pure and philosophical form.
Indievisual interviewee Furuta Wataru was given unique access to photograph Yabusame events held in four places across Japan and has created an exquisite photo book chronicling the archers, the horsemanship, the colorful costumes, and the people who strive to keep this practice alive. Moreover, the decision to publish the eBook was purposefully chosen at this unprecedented time as a means to assist the Japan Equestrian Archery Association and the Takeda School of Horseback Archery which have been impacted by event cancellations due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Holding public exhibitions is the primary source of income for the care and maintenance of the horses, therefore they have been subjected to similar hardships as anywhere else in the world. Wanting to pay back the trust these groups placed in him to document their practices, Furuta is donating a portion of the book sales to assist with their running costs.
If you’re a fan of Japanese culture or Japanese martial arts, the book is a stunning collection of authentic feudal Japan culture preserved for modern times. If you’re experiencing the wonder, beauty, and lethality of ancient Japanese samurai marital arts through “The Ghost of Tsushima,” here’s a chance to see the real-life costumes, weapons, and techniques employed by Jin, Lady Masako, and in particular Sensei Ishikawa, among others captured against the backdrop of Japan’s pristine natural surroundings and interestingly enough urban settings, too.
For international buyers, the “Yabusame” eBook can be found on Amazon’s Kindle Bookstore as well as Apple Books. Domestic buyers can also find it on Kinokuniya, BookLive, Yodobashi, BookWalker, honto, mibon, and RakutenKobo.
There is not much sense in writing too much about Manga Jima director Moriya Fumio’s latest feature. What he has intended and by all accounts succeeded to accomplish is quite different from any yardstick used to measure movies. There will surely be discussions questioning those intentions and debating its accomplishments. Moriya more than anyone understands the gauntlet he has thrown down for himself as a filmmaker and to the audience who views it which is why he has self-labelled it a “controversial work”. But whatever you think those words mean can not prepare you for what you actually experience.
A Girl Under A Tree is two things. First, it is a still life. It recalls Georges Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece ‘A Sunday on La Grende Jatte’ with the vivid details of its outdoor setting. All manner of shades of green interplay with one another as sunlight backlights and shades the flora around actress Yanagi Elisa (Rolling, Ping Pang, Capturing Dad). There are patterns and textures throughout and fine detail revealed through closer, focused viewing. Yanagi herself would seem at home within Edouard Manet’s ‘The Luncheon on the Grass’ as an equally gentle, understated portrait of a girl lounging on a hammock; even more so whenever Yanagi breaks the fourth wall just as the foreground figure of Manet’s painting. However, this is also a motion picture and therefore it changes as time progresses. The subject moves, changes her pose, and there are layered soundscapes to be enjoyed in that way cinema differs from painting. Listen for the sounds of life going on around her as well as a subtle soundtrack which meanders its way throughout the runtime.
Second, the movie is a meditation. Not on any particular subject matter per se, but the movie itself is themeditation. In that sense, it is likely to reveal much about its audience. Who stays. Who leaves. Who finds value in it. Who dismisses it. Who loses themselves to its world. Who rails against it. When Yanagi breaks the fourth wall, what do they see in her gaze or expression? Do they look back? Or do they look elsewhere to avoid that gaze? The movie affords the audience 90 minutes in real-time to spend with Yanagi and see, hear, and possibly feel everything she does. Perhaps more. Moriya leaves whatever is gained from the experience completely up to the viewer. As one, little green sage once advised, what you find there is “only what you take with you.”
Perhaps before COVID-19, Moriya’s movie may have been panned as a self-indulgent exercise. But as people slowly come out from quarantine or are still dealing with life cooped up at home, A Girl Under A Tree could redefine “escapism” in a “New Normal” movie-going experience. Within those darkened spaces, and reduced seating capacity, a calming window onto a world the visuals and sound transport the audience to a place where the anxieties of the past 3-4 months and/or the future is replaced by a scene depicting places or activities missed and yearned for can at the very least provide the same escape as the online ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) videos to which people turned for their soothing qualities. It is safe to say, however, participating with this movie in a theatrical or similar setting is most likely what Moriya truly intends. This is one of those cinema experiences only an independent film can provide and Moriya should be lauded for not only daring to make it, but to actually realize it with aplomb.
Notes on the Margin
– Though a single take, the movie too two days to shoot. – Moriya and Yanagi had to agree upon ways to communicate as Moriya obviously could not bark out direction to her. More importantly they needed to confirm beforehand the signal for the two times Moriya wanted Yanagi to move. Though he had an image in his head, he fumbled to express what needed to happen afterward resulting in Yanagi perhaps not fully grasping what he wanted for the movie. – On the first take of the first day, Moriya and the cinematographer noted their camera positioning captured Yanagi too small within the frame. The re-setup cost them 50 minutes and the second take began later than intended, costing them sunlight toward the later section. It was at this point Moriya gave Yanagi direction to look toward the camera and be conscious of the audience beyond. – The morning of day two, Yanagi emerged smiling from a nearby onsen and told Moriya, “I understand”. He assumed she “understood” what he intended for the movie or perhaps the direction to engage with the audience, but he wasn’t sure how she came to that understanding given the previous day’s occurrences. All that he knew is her face was different that day and he wanted to be on set as soon as possible. – The first take of the second day started at 3pm. Yanagi hardly moved. Before long she took Moriya’s cue and sat up and just as if they designed it, a breeze blew and rustled the trees. Yanagi’s movements were exactly as Moriya hoped to see indicating she truly did understand what he intended. During the take the sunlight darkened behind clouds so he decided to let the take continue but keep it for additional material. – Before take two, they readjusted the position of the hammock due to the time of day. Cinematographer Takagi Fuuta said by doing so the sun would come into frame. A check of the monitor showed Yanagi with warm edge lighting giving the scene a floating feeling. That is when they took the still for the poster. – Take two started at 4:50pm. This time Moriya left the timing to look toward the camera completely up to Yanagi. As predicted, the sun’s movement put it in a direct line with the camera lens and the image slowly began to blowout (turn white or overexposed). Moriya turned toward Takagi to ask if this was a problem, but found Takagi instead delighted by what he was witnessing.
Although he remains a Dentsu employee, Nagahisa was mainly assigned unglamorous projects after he joined the advertising powerhouse in 2007. Instead of producing more creative TV commercials, he made video clips to sell beef at supermarkets and TV programs to promote local mascots. Proceeds from such productions were paltry for Dentsu.
“But I wanted to make things to satisfy clients, so I was busy and it was physically demanding,” Nagahisa said.
The stress caught up with him three years ago, and his health fell apart. He temporarily lost his hearing and couldn’t go out because of chest pain.
Determined to do something he wanted to do before it was too late, Nagahisa decided to make the movie he had dreamed of when he was a student. He took a paid leave of absence and shot his first movie, And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool, in 10 days in 2016. The title won the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
Nagahisa Makoto’s situation is emblematic of the visual creator in Japan. Financial stability can be found by becoming an employee at an advertising firm or other video production house–Dentsu happens to be the largest in Japan–where one is a cog. And in Makoto’s case, a cog they couldn’t figure out where to place and how to utilize. On the other hand, going solo as an independent filmmaker carries with it all the accompanying risks making the option a difficult choice when you have a family for whom to provide. But when one is professionally ostracized for being unique, what is one to do? Fortunately, Makoto had a vision and thankfully the drive (as fear motivated as it was) to create the movie he wanted (“Goldfish”). Many filmmaking voices in Japan must struggle with how to be unique and uncompromising in a society which values the exact opposite from newcomers to experienced veterans who work often with major studios. With luck, Makoto’s success abroad will be an example for both filmmakers and their employers of the potential they possess.
“There’s a tendency in modern society to just demand what’s right, saying ‘be positive, be serious,’” Nagahisa added. “But I hope the movie sends the message that it’s OK to run away, be a social recluse or go off the rails at times when it becomes too much for you.”
SGN is a great idea. Hope he can continue with this every once in a while just as it is. Never a genuine show on a network or streaming service. Of course he’s just sharing what others have been online, but being who he is (plus he’s married to an amazing actress too–so jealous), he’s the perfect distribution point for all those pockets of personal stories throughout the internet.
The English language is filled with words to express a feeling or emotion through a color: “green with envy”, “feeling blue”, “seeing red”, “a yellow coward”, etc. But do such words and phrases have equal signficance to the color blind who perceive the world differently? Yuasa Noriko’s short movie Coming Back Sunny is a movie about adolescence and the maelstrom of emotions that come with high school life. Shiori, the protagonist, is unable to perceive red and green. To her these colors seem the same umber color. Then one day, she sees a flash of red in a colorless petal picked up by her friend Yumi. Thus begins Shiori’s plunge into newfound experiences of her world and those around her.
The story is an elegantly styled allegory for a teenage girl’s awakening emotions as it changes her relations with people (and vice-versa); her color-blindness only serves to enchance the wonder and confusion she experiences. The first time the phenomenon occurs, she describes it through onomatopoetic words often used in Japanese: “whoosh, boom, OMG”. It’s not a coicidence those same Japenese words can be used to express the kind of swooning someone may feel when they first fall in love or become attracted to someone. The fact this happens when her friend Yumi touches the petal is of particular importance. But as she begins to see red everywhere, Shiori becomes confused. The situation is not helped by an apparent “betrayal” by her friend, and an encounter with a high school boy who claims they are a destined couple; here the term “blush” being used. Ultimately, Shiori’s bewilderment becomes the impetus for exploring her burgeoning sexual identity and the choices ahead for her.
Taking advantage of a RED cinema camera, Yuasa portrays a bright colorful world around Shiori to emphasize the circumstance of her color-blind protagonist . More importantly, Yuasa skillfully employs editing to paint particular emotional states– drops of water color paint into clear water have both a symbolic significance when cut between scenes such as the moment Shiori becomes angry at Yumi or the opening sequence of dancing, energetic teens; and literal significance as these seem to be the paints being used by a boy Shiori encounters. A skillful storyteller in various mediums and formats, Yuasa displays a confident hand in how she wants this adolescent love story to unfold. If there is only one drawback, the 15 minute runtime only hints at some something more as seen in Yumi’s determined look at the close of the movie. What has been presented would make a fine presentation reel to raise funds for an episodic or feature. Yuasa herself commented on her Instagram (linked here): “This film is my own ‘Romeo and Juliet’. And it is not finished yet, and the story ends just before it reaches its peak.” Fingers crossed she can develop this story to its full potential. An Audience Award win at the ARFF Paris certainly shows there is an (ahem) audience for it. The Firenze Film Corti Festival also just recently announced Coming Back Sunny is a selection finalist for their upcoming 7th edition, though with the coronavirus pandemic, dates are still up in the air.
Meanwhile, Yuasa is developing a feature project from her original screenplay. Currently the project, tentatively titled Performing Kaoru’s Funeral, has begun seeking financing with an American producer which came about through her participation at the American Film Market in 2019. The movie is described as a “heavy comedy . . . packed with immense irony and love” that will “[depict] the last moments of a woman’s life.” More on this as information is released.