Ten Years Japan Screening

Movies
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There was considerable anxiousness in the days leading up to the “Ten Years Japan” press screening. This is a project I’d been keeping my eye on and as information was released, my enthusiasm for the movie began to build as did my expectations. Could it live up to the Hong Kong version? I was guardedly hopeful. However, I was equally concerned about the typhoon which was forecast to be around the Tokyo/Kanto area the day of the screening. I had originally intended to go to an earlier screening date, but work necessitated a postponement. The typhoon eventually raced passed the Kanto area much faster than expected leaving unusually hot, summer-like conditions in its wake that day, entailing a little toil on the journey to the Shochiku building in East Ginza. Compared to the Kinohaus theater where I am accustomed to seeing press screenings for independent movies and smaller productions, the screening room at Shochiku was certainly roomier with wider seats and ample legroom, though the size of the screen and room itself did not seem much larger. Taking a quick scan of the other audience members, I spotted Teruoka Sozo, the Programming Director of Osaka Asian Film Festival a few seats away in the next row. I also recognized a few other faces but could not recall or place the names. My apologies to you if you were there. After a brief greeting by Fujimura Akiyo, one of the participating directors, the film began.

The Movie

PLAN75

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© 2018 “Ten Years Japan” Film Partners

A powerful first salvo, nothing more needs to be said about Hayakawa Chie’s PLAN75 beyond the glossy promo video which opens the movie for the future government’s initiative at dealing with Japan’s aging population. The promise versus the realities confronting the program’s participants and the civil servant tasked with conducting consultations and “fulfillment” with the elderly (think insurance salesman in a Logan’s Run world) are tragic and woeful in all respects. As one elderly man who submits to the program says: “Is a long life a disgrace?”

Mischievous Alliance

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© 2018 “Ten Years Japan” Film Partners

Today’s advancement toward A.I. and big data influencing our lives is given an intriguiging extrapolation in Kinoshita Yusuke’s short. The algorithms serving as annoyances or conveniences today are determining the future path of children as personified by Promise, a HAL-like ever watching eye and artificial voice. When thoughts or actions begin to create deviations from its data recommended life path, Promise attempts a “stern talking to” before resorting to negative behavioral reinforcement–a blast of ear piercing music in this case. But there is something inherently unbridled in children that society (and now an A.I.) has always attempted to condition out of them. The three “miscreants” of the title act out of a pure sense of what seems right–the rules of society and the voice of Promise be damned. In doing so, they learn about themselves and one another, something even the A.I. manages to acknowledge as not erroneous. It’s a shame societies are not as easy to upgrade.

DATA

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© 2018 “Ten Years Japan” Film Partners

Tsuno Megumi imagines a time people leave digital inheritances for posterity. A daughter played by Sugisaki Hana gets access to her deceased mother’s memories from the cloud and tries to connect with the mother she never knew through photos, emails, message threads, etc. As with today, however, these pieces of data only give a hint of things and lack any context provided by experience and emotion. These are filled in by her father who at first seemingly fits the daughter’s suppostions based on the digital information alone until he makes it clear the one who knows her mother best is the one who shared time with her the longest. In so doing, the daughter begins to understand who her mother was rather than merely the person the data suggested. Tanaka Tetsushi is terrific as the father, but Sugisaki certainly steals the show. She delivers one particular line so well it was the only time the audience audibly reacted.

The Air We Can’t See

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© 2018 “Ten Years Japan” Film Partners

The only film in the omnibus to reference the Fukushima Nuclear Powerplant Accident, Fujimura Akiyo’s The Air We Can’t See starts off like a cautionary tale. The populace now lives in underground, concrete bunkers for fear of radioactive contamination and have been doing long enough for infants taken down or birthed there to have grown never knowing the “world above”. But despite warnings about the dangers of that world or anything from it, Mizuki and Kaede are curious, fascinated by “artifacts” from the surface and what they imagine it is like up there. As children are aught to do, what is forbidden is incentive for doing the opposite. Mizuki and Kaede’s inquisitiveness is practically uncontainable. So, when a tape of the sounds from above apparently made by Kaede also hint at an escape, Mizuki decides to venture out to what she believes is true about a world she has never seen. The film is a powerful reminder of how adults can suffocate their young with fear (the air they can’t see) instead of allowing them to hope for and work toward a brighter future. Fujimura must be applauded for truly holding back through cinematography and lighting until the very last to show us Mizuki’s fate.

For Our Beautiful Country

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© 2018 “Ten Years Japan” Film Partners

Opening on a military recruitment poster, the fifth and final episode centers not so much around military conscription as it does the secret behind the rejected poster design. Taiga plays an advertising agency employee placed in charge of the publicity campaign. He visits the home of the poster’s designer, Amatatsu (Kino Hana) to apologize for the time spent working on the poster which was deemed too antiquated and lacking appeal with a younger demographic. What should have been a basic courtesy call turns into a day spent with Amatatsu as we learn more about her and more importantly the source of a design motif used on the poster. The story’s premise is deceptive but one that is ultimately very relevant for 2018 Japan–the importance of conversations with those who have direct experience and/or memory of war as their numbers, therefore their voices, gradually dwindle. Cliches aside, the moral of the story truly is: “Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

A Japanese Approach

The original Ten Years omnibus film was made under a certain political climate during the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong at the time. The emotions of those events fueled the political fire of that film. To be honest, my personal feelings for the current socio-political climate in Japan swayed my expectation for a Ten Years Japan with as much snarl and teeth as the original. The final product is neither “angry” nor “antagonistic” and intentionally so. As a representative from distributor Free Stone Productions told me afterward, the team wanted to comment on Japan’s present and future but in a distinctively Japanese manner. The film must play domestically so an insurgent tone could potentially turn away audiences as well as media coverage. The movies are far more subtle in making their point and I was surprised how well the approach works. My immediate intuition pointed to Executive Producer Kore-eda Hirokazu’s guiding hand in the development of the project. Afterall, he has proven a master of understated stories about human relationships through which larger themes can also be inferred. The approach makes each of the episodes “viewer friendly” and arresting.

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A Crimson Star Press Screening

Movies
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Attending press screenings at the Kinohaus screening room located in the basement level of the Eurospace Theater can sometimes prove tricky. Due to some misjudgement on my part, I arrived at Shibuya station with less than 10 minutes before the screening began. I attempted to take a short cut, but as anyone who has been to Shibuya knows, the backstreets around the vicinity of the Eurospace Theater are complicated to say the least. My “short cut” ended up taking me farther away from the theater. Thanks to the GPS and map available on my smartphone, I arrived with barely a minute or two to spare. Normally I would take stock of those in attendance, but this time I could only manage to find a seat and get settled before a young woman associated with the movie walked to the front of the room in order to briefly thank those attendance for coming to the screening. She then introduced director, Igashi Aya, who seemed understandably nervous at this first screening of her latest endeavor outside the movie’s inner circle. After a few words from Igashi, the lights dimmed.

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Director Igashi Aya (left) greets the audience.

The Movie

A Crimson Star opens with a red paraglider emerging from behind a lush, green mountain ridge to drift out against a deep blue sky. It is a key image on the promotional materials and an important symbol thematically. At its core, the movie is about longing. Komatsu Miku’s teenage Yo, and Sakurai Yuki’s Yayoi are two women (people) in search of a loving individual which for all intents and purposes should have been inherent in their lives. But the reality they have faced has been quite the opposite. They are both damaged individuals who find in one another the unconditional care they’ve been longing, but it is a relationship ultimately limited by societal bounds. As the movie unfolds, deeper wounds or new hurts are revealed creating an even deeper loneliness and a yearning for one another’s company, but neither can truly be what the other needs despite all efforts. The red paraglider mentioned earlier symbolizes their liberation from a life of being lonely. Flight is the freedom to soar beyond their boundaries. The palpable melancholy one feels throughout the movie is primarily due to their own realization of their earthly bounds. What becomes obvious is the relationship between them will forever exist in a limbo between reciprocated feelings and unrequited love.

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Komatsu Miku (l) and Sakurai Yuki (r)

I wrote in my sight unseen write up this movie could potentially render a story that transcends conventional notions of heterosexual and/or romantic love. Upon viewing, however, I now understand it supersedes even these and what some may superficially see as LGBTQ themes, delivering instead a representation of the four types of love found in Greek language: Storge (familial love), Phileo (fellowship or friendship love), Eros (romantic love), and Agape (unconditional love). Whether intended by Igashi or not, Yo and Yayoi’s relationship touches on each of these as the movie develops. I will be interested to see how the ending will be interpreted by foreign audiences. It is both hopeful yet heartbreaking and leaves great potential for discussion.

The Production

Only in her early 20s, Igashi tackles emotional depths and complicated themes with an understanding belying her age. She has been able to render a sincerity in her characters and an honesty through her story which have often tripped up experienced filmmakers. This is also due in no small part to the presence of her two capable actresses. 15-year-old Komatsu Miku must portray emotions and situations one would think is not even in the mindset of someone so young, but Komatsu handily portrays Yo’s complex emotional layers and desires without being “cinematic,” imparting a tangible sincerity to her quest for compansionship and love. Complementing Komatsu is Sakurai Yuki’s portrayal of Yayoi. Necessarily providing the movie its “sexuality,” Sakurai also never loses sight of who Yayoi is as a woman. She imbues a subtlety and depth to her sadness camouflaged with a practiced air of strength. There is one scene where Yayoi tries and fails to fight back tears but does not want to let it show. Igashi’s framing of the scene and Sakurai’s delivery of Yayoi’s heartache breaking through her emotional dam still resonates with me a days later. Sakurai seems so perfect for the role it is hard to believe she was one of 300 who auditioned for the part. She and Komatsu’s commitment to the project from very early on is evident despite the difficult production.

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State of the Newsletter

Planning / Process
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Before the end of 2017 I stated I was hoping to implement email newsletters on the Indievisual site and opening up subscription sign-ups by the first quarter of 2018. It is nearing September and obviously the newsletter subscriptions have not yet started. Behind the scenes, however, progress has slowly been made toward implementation and I thought this would be good time to reveal what has been going on and what will happen with the newsletter.

Why a newsletter

Before proceeding to detail the progress of the newsletter up to now, I thought it would be a good idea to go over the reason behind creating and distributing newsletters for Indievisual readers. There are a few ways for visitors to keep up to date with developments on the site. The first is to visit the site often. Obviously this can be difficult for people based on their schedules and/or internet consumption habits. There are RSS feeds, but the technology for this as well as the apps on which to read them are slowly fading out of existence. It was the way to follow a site long before the rise of social media. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook became the popular means for businesses and site owners to make announcements and communicate with their customers/visitors, creating a “community” which engaged not only with the business or site owner but amongst one another as well. However, increasing concerns regarding personal data and how it has been exploited by the algorithms of such platforms are causing users who are fed up with ads and irrelevant content to become distrustful of their own newsfeeds. Simultaneously, sites and businesses looking to maintain high traffic and ad views to generate revenue are prioritizing the quantity, rather than the quality, of engagement on their social media site.

An email newsletter is a way to return quality engagement that is both personal and tailored specifically to the site’s subscribers while simultaneously sustaining and increasing the site’s brand value. Some data regarding the effectiveness of newsletters taken from this article on the Dreamhost blog [full disclosure: Dreamhost is my web hosting provider]:

  • You are six times more likely to get a click-through from an email campaign than you are from a tweet. Bonus: you get more than 140 characters to do it.
  • Ninety percent of email gets delivered to the intended recipient’s inbox, whereas only two percent of your Facebook fans see your posts in their News Feed (they’re probably watching cat videos).
  • Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter and achieves 174 percent more conversions.
  • Email is a direct line of communication you have with website visitors that explicitly said they want to hear from you!

In this day and age, it is probably surprising to think email is still an important platform, but when a site’s visitor willingly signs up to stay informed of updates to the site, special offers, etc., the relevancy of a personally addressed email newsletter arriving in their inbox can not be ignored. In terms of publications, two of my favorite newsletters are Kai Brach’s simple, brand consistent and thoughtful guide to content on the web, the Offscreen “Dispatch”:

Offscreen-Dispatch-screen

And Freunden von Freunden’s visually well designed, and carefully curated guide to new content on their site:

FvF-Newsletter-screen

Platforms

Prior to doing research into the email campaign platforms available, I first thought about my needs. What did I want/need from the platform I would choose? The first was cost. I am not adverse for paying for services–in fact, I feel doing so makes for a better experience. However, Indievisual is operated on an almost non-existing budget so I needed a platform which offered robust features at a free tier or low cost plan. Second, the platform offers features which would help me create, send, and manage my email newsletters including the sign-up forms, landing pages, pop-up forms, and subscriber management. It also has to allow for a degree of customization so my newsletters would look consistent with the Indievisual brand and not be “generic” templates or watermarked with logos/text for the platform (usually the case in free pricing tiers).

With these in mind, I went about examining the most popular platforms. Two of the major corporate level platforms, Campaign Monitor and Get Response did not offer free tiers with Campaign Monitor being the most pricey entry-level platform at $59. So these were not in the running. The clear search winner, however, was MailChimp which does power many newsletters I know. MailChimp offers a free tier if you are below 1000 subscribers, but limits the some features available to you, offering them as add-ons instead. They also do not offer 24-hour email or chat support for free tier users. Digging deeper in to the search results, I found Revue, which is a dedicated newsletter platform–as opposed to the previously mentioned three which are email campaign platforms which could be used to promote products and offer discounted prices/coupons to subscribers. Revue seems to be targeting writers on the web and giving them the ability to generate revenue from their writing. However, their free tier is limited to 50 subscribers, does not offer any customization of your newsletter, and there seems to be little in the way of documentation or help tutorials. Searching further revealed MailerLite. Their free-tier allows up to 1000 subscribers and more importantly gave access to all features found in the paid-tiers. Only the size of one’s subscriber list deterimined the pricing plan one had to use. Moreover, they offer highly customizable email designs including embedded media. Their help section is filled with helpful documentation and video tutorials while their support staff are available via email or chat 24 hours/day (more on this below).

These were just some of the many platforms I examined and compared against one another. Though they all offer similar features and technologies (automation, timezone delivery, a/b split testing, auto resend, etc.) necessary for the creating and management of email newsletters, pricing and a few key differences helped me settle on one over the rest.

MailerLite

Offering a free-tier which did not limit access to features was a major factor in my deciding to choose them over their competitors. Their simple to understand and well produced video tutorials also gave me insight into what those features do and how they could be tailored to my needs. Furthermore, their drag-and-drop editor offers a multitude of customization options that can be saved as templates allowing for specific Indievisual branded newsletters that can change depending on circumstance (for example, an Indievisual at Osaka Asian Film Festival newsletter could integrate OAFF’s color scheme for that year). In fact, almost every interaction can be personalized from Sign-up forms and successful sign-up message screens to even an Unsubscribe form. They also offer integration with WordPress (the publishing platform which powers Indievisual), social networks and various web-based software. Their subscriber database and management system is also easy to use for novices allowing for more complex campaigns and groupings with approximately the same user experience as managing a blog.

But perhaps the biggest factor in deciding on MailerLite is who they are. They are a young startup (literally, with the team averaging at 28 years of age) based in Vilnius, Lithuania. The small company has no corporate structure, but instead believes in a company culture that is product-centric and people first. Though they may have a small office in Vilnius, only a core group of developers work there. The rest of the team work remotely from wherever they are which allows them to be responsive in any time zone, 24-hours/day. Without a large office to house such a staff, MailerLite is able to keep costs down and pass on that savings to their users.

I will admit my preference to support small businesses and independent thinking most likely played a role in choosing MailerLite, but their feature rich platform do offer the right solutions for my newletter that I can currently afford. The fact they are not a corporate-sized platform just happens to be a bonus.

Implementation

With a platform chosen, from here it’s time to sign-up and learn, experiment, and become familiar with MailerLite’s features as well as the intricacies of subscriber sign-ups and management. Forms need to be created and their behavior adjusted (appearing immediately upon viewing the site, only after reading an article, or before leaving the site, etc.) prior to being integrated within Indievisual.

I also need to think about the newsletter frequency. Though I have stated on the Indievisual site that I would be taking a survey regarding this matter, this will no longer be the case. I need to decide how often the newsletter should come out based on the realities of running the site as a one-person operation. Even if the frequency will be limited to whenever new content is available, being upfront about this at sign-up will be a necessary section of the form itself.

More than anything, however, I will need to familiarize myself with the new GDPR rules regarding data privacy and user rights enacted by the EU. I am not sure to what degree this will affect the collection of subscriber data for Indievisual newsletters, but I do already know that generating a Privacy Policy page may be required. How this should be written is another task to be conquered prior to implementation.

So, when can you expect newsletter subscriptions to start? I made a promise before which I could not keep and thus I am not going to set a specific deadline. I already know my work schedule in the following months will limit how much I will be able to even update Indievisual itself, much less allow for the learning and launch of a new feature. Rest assured, though, progress is always being made behind-the-scenes. I will let you know here on this blog, on Indievisual’s Facebook page and Instagram when newsletter subscriptions will commence.

Feature photograph by: unsplash-logoPau Casals

Caught My Eye Rethink

Indievisual Mag / Solutions
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The Caught My Eye section of Indievisual has been the place where I write about movies which have… “caught my eye.” It’s my way of drawing attention to works past, present, and/or future which seem interesting. I first learn about each movie through word-of-mouth, social media mentions, write-ups by other sites, film festival lineups etc., and after gathering as much information as I can, sum up what makes the work appealing to me. I have recently uploaded four new movies to the section which includes a documentary from 2013, and a narrative drama slated for a 2019 release. However, as I was preparing and writing up these articles, I realized they were only the second set of movies I have written about in 2018. My pace compared to 2017 had slown down. Producing these articles takes up a lot of time which often is a luxury. Yet the list of movies earmarked for an article continues to grow constantly. In order to keep up with this (to be honest I will be playing catch up for while), I have to write more frequently and this has sparked a rethink of how I write articles for this section.

At present, the articles have averaged around 300-400 words, but some of the more recent articles had ballooned to approximately 600 words. For each movie, I have attempted to touch upon the themes it seems to be addressing and in addition to a summary or translation of the synopsis, provide some background about the filmmaker. The process of researching all of this, outlining the structure of the article, and writing the piece itself sometimes rivals any of the other feature articles of the magazine. Furthermore, I have also begun to realize the length and nature of these articles have sometimes led to Japanese filmmakers mistaking these for reviews of their movie. Of course, this is not the case. They are meant to introduce the movie and provide the initial impression for attracting interest from abroad. Though I am not concerned about being on top of the latest developments in the Japanese independent film scene, I do believe staying consistent and relevant is important.

Therefore I have decided that moving forward, the articles for the Caught My Eye section need to be boiled down to their basic function: inform the reader of what the movie is about. This will entail making the translated synopsis the primary focus of the article with a few additional notes about the production and/or filmmaker plus a trailer if available. Barring the length of the synopsis, I hope to keep these under 300 words. I would caution against expecting a sudden barrage of articles into the section. As I’ve often stated my paid work does take precedence over writing for the magazine. Nevertheless, simplifying the editorial focus of the Caught My Eye section should allow me to produce an article whenever I have some extra extra time during an ongoing project or between jobs.

Feature photo by: Vlad Sargu