Furuta Wataru Interview Now Available

Indievisual Mag
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The first interview published in 2018 is with Furuta Wataru, an award-winning producer and director who I have known for many years. I first encountered his work when I was the international films programmer for the San Diego Asian Film Festival. I reached out to him on one of my visits to Japan and over time we have become friends. His career trajectory is fascinating. Though I saw a burgeoning filmmaker racking up multiple short movie achievements to his name, he shifted rather naturally to being a working photographer/art director when cable and satellite programming–through which he was most active–trailed off in reaction to changing viewership as the internet first began encroaching upon broadcast media. However, had Furuta garnered his short movie success in tandem with the rise of internet video instead of before, I’m personally convinced his path would have continued in motion pictures. Though very happy with the work he is now doing (he is slowly gaining attention as a photographer), Furuta has become one of those “lost” filmmakers who for one reason or another became overlooked or quietly went on to do other things. It was the desire to bring attention to filmmakers like Furuta which motivated me to begin Indievisual, therefore I am especially pleased to shine a light back on this successful producer and director who was just slightly ahead of the times.

Click here to read my interview with Furuta Wataru.

A Preview of SKIP City 2018

Movies
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The celebratory 15th edition of the digital cinema film festival held in Saitama Prefecture announced its lineup recently. Moreover, a change to the festival’s competition structure brings an exciting new opportunity for local indie and up-and-coming filmmakers. Adding a dedicated competition section for Japanese features and short movies respectively, the festival will be screening 14 Japanese movies in-competition on top of special programming. In recent years, SKIP has been playing an ever significant role in providing visibility for movies with an interesting and unique voice which has given a boost to their filmmakers. Hiroshi Shoji’s Ken and Kazu was a short film screened at the 2011 edition before being expanded to a well regarded feature-length. Nakano Ryota had his debut feature Capturing Dad gain considerable more attention after picking up two awards in 2012 which most likely led to his follow-up, Japan’s entry for the Foreign Language Academy Award Her Love Boils Bathwater. It is for this specific reason these 14 movies are of interest to Indievisual not only because they are independent movies or works by developing filmmakers (5 are world premieres), but most importantly because of their original, challenging, and intriguing scenarios.

Click on the Title links to see the movie’s page on the SKIP City International D-Cinema Film Festival’s website

 

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©彼女はひとり

Nakagawa Natsuki’s She is Alone has the distinction of being the lone Japanese entry in the international competition as well as being a movie directed by someone still in film school. The movie itself was her thesis at the Graduate School of Contemporary Psychology at Rikkyo University’s Graduate Program in Body Expression and Cinematic Arts. First, allow that to sink in. Nakagawa engaged in graduate studies in the psychology department. Second, from the movie’s synopsis, it’s not a stretch to say this snapshot into the human psyche and motivations are an application of those psychology studies. Currently she is continuing to hone her craft at the Graduate School of Film and New Media at Tokyo University of the Arts, where she shot a short movie produced as a class assignment, Projection, which was screened at the 2018 Fajr International Film Festival.

Japanese Features Competition

 

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Beyond the Blue seems like both a road movie and a coming-of-age movie. However, there’s an interesting twist to those genres which brings to mind Greg Egan’s ‘The Hundred Light Year Diary’. And the title itself evokes a sense of anxiety toward either escaping fate or being bound to it that director Hiro Kenichiro could be tackling. Hiro began making independent movies in high school. Interestingly enough, he went on to study dentistry in university before returning to filmmaking studies after graduation. Beyond the Blue is his second feature-length.

 

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©OBA Norichika

Cyclops by director Oba Norichika is no stranger to film festivals. It screened at the 2018 Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival’s Off-theater Competition where it won the Governor of Hokkaido Prize, as well as debuting internationally at the Nippon Connection film festival in Germany. By all accounts, it is a confident revenge thriller by a director who has worked with the likes of Irie Yu and Anno Hideaki. For those curious, the title was inspired by Odilon Redon’s painting, ‘Cyclops’ and “its hidden deep meaning” (quoted from Asian Movie Pulse). Oba’s debut feature, Nora also shares darkly human themes marking him as a potential new talent in contemporary noir.

 

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©東京藝術大学大学院映像研究科

A graduate of Tokyo University of the Arts, Takebayashi Hiroyuki filmed High Sentiments Family as his thesis work. Like many of his generation, he explores the unraveling of families and, perhaps going as far as addressing, societies which put on airs. Whether by intention or inattention, keeping up appearances can be deceiving. The film has also screened at the 39th Pia Film Festival.

 

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The fourth and final work in the Japanese Feature Competition is also the only one warning viewers of its possibly disturbing scenes. Reading the three sentence synopsis for Siblings in a Cave one can understand the necessity for prefacing the movie with such a warning. That the warning does exist is a testament to director Katayama Shinzo’s commitment to not pull any punches on the movie’s themes of survival and desperation. Perhaps he learned a thing or two while serving as assistant director to Bong Joon-ho on 2008’s Tokyo! and 2009’s Mother.

Japanese Short Movie Competition

 

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Birth–The Dance of Life– is an animated documentary by three directors focusing on three perspectives on the “miracle of life.” Each episode is animated in the creator’s style lending to the idea of how each have approached the topic.

 

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The topic of school bullying, sadly, seems to be one which will always have presence in contemporary Japanese cinema. Fighting back, on the other hand, seems a less common theme making Yokota Kosuke’s Dumping Ground a potential standout.

 

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©belly roll film/RECIPRO

Isobe Teppei’s Who Knows about My Life starring Yashiki Hiroko is, as stated in my report on the 2018 Indie Forum at the Osaka Asian Film Festival, a work that surprises on many levels. Suffice it to say, it is good to see it among the shorts competing at SKIP.

 

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©Michihaya Mizoguchi

Lip and Fist taps into the “strangers in the night” theme as two individuals existing on the fringes of society find commonality in one another and in so doing, a brief respite from their everyday existence. Stills suggest director Mizoguchi Michihaya shot the movie completely at night, and quite gorgeously at that.

 

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Gorgeous cinematography also seems to be an important element in Kawanobe Shuichi’s Lull which must use flashbacks about the central characters relationship to her friend as a means of unravelling her friend’s disappearance–perhaps the titular “lull”.

 

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Despite some of the ominous looking stills, director Tarui Takahiro’s He is Always Sleeping is actually a comedy; an eccentric one, but a comedy nevertheless. The setup, however, and the attention Tarui gives the scene leading to the denouement may be why it is competing at SKIP.

 

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Stage actor and director Itagaki Yusuke makes his film directorial debut with Harikomi, a simple, one-setting movie centered around the dialogue of the three detectives at the story’s core–not surprising considering his theatre roots.

 

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The scenario for Tokyo Comet seems more suited for a feature (it may still end up as such in the future), so it will be interesting to see how Horanai Hiroki uses the 29 minute runtime to tell its tale of two brothers dealing with the knowledge a natural disaster is coming and what it might say about Japan post-Great East Japan Earthquake.

 

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©Taro Shirai

Eternal Hoimi is a thesis shot by Shirai Taro while enrolled in the Cinema Department at Nihon University’s College of Art; it’s his second movie. The story is a deceptively simple exploration of youthful hope and the harsh realities that often await an ideal or idealized life. But therein also lies a chance to mature.

 

In my profile of SKIP City International D-Cinema Festival’s programming director Hasegawa Toshiyuki, he stated “Japanese filmmakers competing with international filmmakers is the best way to shine a spotlight on Japanese filmmakers and it’s also good way for participating Japanese filmmakers to understand the level of movies the world’s filmmakers are making early in their career.” How the addition of dedicated section for Japanese features will benefit both the festival and local filmmakers moving forward is certainly worth observing. However, the types of movies that are making it to the program suggests Hasegawa’s determination to “just try and improve the level of movies”–ultimately encouraging what types of movies are made through the exhibition end–is key to his vision for SKIP in the future. The festival runs from July 13th thru the 22nd. With luck, I’ll be able to provide a report on this year’s Japanese selections on the main Indievisual magazine site.

Meaningful Content

Inspiration
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[…] Because the reality is that that creating quick, skim-able posts still requires a fair degree of work to create and promote, and yet adds very little to our brand as a whole. At their best, these posts increased our social following by a very small amount; at their worst, those posts diluted our whole message and failed to represent the quality of the printed magazine. We’re a very small team with extremely limited resources, and it makes no sense for us to put time and effort into content that doesn’t accurately represent us.

You might occasionally find a quick post from us on our website or social channels, such as an announcement like this one, a story we’ve produced in collaboration with a partner, or a link to something a friend is doing, but we have so much great content to publish from seven issues (and counting) of the magazine, that that’ll be our focus from now on.

By and large you’ll be hearing from us less. And we think that’s a good thing — when you do hear from us, it’ll be more meaningful….


Lagom Magazine

2018 Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival Winners

Movies
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The Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival held in Hokkaido every February is one of Japan’s most unique film festivals–certainly the only festival catering exclusively to genre movies. Every year, it’s Off-theater Competition section and Yubari Choice section features offbeat titles and standout indie movies rarely screened anywhere else in the country. Occasionally, titles screened at the festival will attract international attention and go on to limited release both domestically and abroad. The principal gateway for this potential path is the awards the festival hands out. Following is a truncated rundown of winners focusing specifically on Japanese independent works.

Off-theater Competition

The Grand Prix went to ED or (The Unexpected Erection of you) by Nishiguchi Hikaru. A coming-of-age movie in which a young boy develops erectile dysfunction after becoming aroused by the sight of his naked mother, it won for being “a delightful movie filled with laughter and tears.” Mr. Nishiguchi will receive along with a trophy, a cash prize of 2 million yen (approx. USD $20,0000) to fund his next work.

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Nishiguchi Hikaru giving his acceptance speech. Courtesy Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival

Comment from the Director:

“Wow, I didn’t think I would ever received the Grand Prix, plus there have been people who have seen the movie who have said to me “what the-?” so this is surprising. But I’m truly happy. Thank you very much!”

The Special Jury Award was awarded to Night of the Dead Geisha by Naruse Kiyoto.

Synopsis:
Misa Murai, a mediocre screenwriter, is often ordered to rewrite her scripts by directors, even if she submits new ones. One day, she hears about a legend of a cursed geisha in a small village [isolated deep in the] mountains. She immediately heads to the village with a crew for a location [hunt]. Inspired by the legend, she writes a script about the cursed geisha at amazing speed. However, the president of a movie production company is killed, and surprisingly, the killer is THE CURSED GEISHA!!! When Misa finds the geisha acting according to her script, she carries out her revenge through her own scenario.

The Governor of Hokkaido Prize and Cinegar Award were awarded to Cyclops by Oba Norichika.

Synopsis:
After [spending] 14 years in prison for murdering his wife and her lover, Shinohara returns to town determined to get revenge on the person who killed his wife and set him up… With help from detective Matsuo, who was in charge of the case, and his [informant] Nishi, Shinohara finds out that it was a young Yakuza boss, Zaizen. With help from Nishi, [Shinohara] learns how to shoot. While getting ready to kill Zaizen, he starts suffering nightmares about his wife’s murder, but at the same time he finds peace when he meets her ghost.
One day, he goes to a bar and meets a woman called Haru, who is the spitting image of his late wife. Shocked, he leaves the bar.

Comment from Off-Theater Competition Jury Foreman Zeze Takahise:

When the members of the jury were selecting the Grand Prix, there were four movies in the running: Night of the Dead Geisha, Cyclops, ED or (The Unexpected Erection of You), and Slaughtr Jap. Night of the Dead Geisha is a movie about making a movie which muddles imagination and reality to the point it was still unclear which was which in the end so I think the movie perhaps riled up our emotions. Despite depicting a world similar to my own, ED or (The Unexpected Erection of You) depicted human beings with a unique and fresh sensibility I thought was done well. For the way it portrayed an internal struggle, we awarded it the Grand Prix.
Slaughtr Jap director Sakamoto (Yugo) and others declaring “I’m going to change cinema!” was what I remember most about coming to this year’s film festival. I can recall when I was also 18 really aspiring to this world being redefined by young directors who would break down the system regulating filming up to then; it’s what I thought was great about movies. But, did cinema change as I expected? I don’t think it has. For that reason, the conviction to want to change it is extremely important in my opinion, therefore I think all the filmmakers here will take up the challenge.

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Slaughtr Jap ©Sakamoto Yugo

International Short Film Competiton

The Grand Prix went to PAN by directors Sakamoto Yugo and Tsuji Nagiko

Synopsis: This story is [a] black comedy based on the true story [of lead actress Tsuji Nagiko’s firing from a bakery]. Mornings are early at the bakery. [Komugi] oversleeps and leaves late for her early morning the part-time job]. [The other workers at the bakery are the crabby] manager and [his] wife, [an] Indian foreign [exchange] student and [an older woman who both worth part-time]. [Komugi] opens a [particular] door [and on] the other side of the door…. [So begins Komugi’s tale of revenge]. A [story of saving] the world [through] bread.

*(Edits to the English text featured on the festival’s English site were made to correct the numerous automated translation errors.)

1 of 3 Artistic Contribution Awards went to NO LINE directed by Kawanaka Rick.

Synopsis: On the way home after being dumped, the protagonist sees her being kidnapped. Can she be saved? Will she be saved…?

Audience Award

The Grand Prix in the category went to Ueda Shinichiro’s One Cut of the Dead

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Ueda Shinichiro brandishing his award. Courtesy Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival

Comment from the director:

“I was actually scheduled to get on a 12 o’clock bus when a staff member said to me ‘Something’s up so could you please go back.’ I thought, ‘what could be happening?’ It was so sudden I was surprised. I had made the movie believing people who saw it would absolutely enjoy it, that it would make them laugh so I am elated to receive the award….”

Of the filmmakers mentioned, Sakamoto Yugo seems like the one to watch. Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead is already starting to attract attention while the subject matter of Nishiguchi’s work is sure to find favor with many genre festivals abroad. Sakamoto, on the other hand, has two movies in the festival–one was in the running for an Off-Theater Competition award, while the other (Pan) received the top honor in the International Short Film category. Moreover, his overall “attitude”, for lack of a better term, discernible from the synopsis of his movies and the profile he chose to submit to Yubari–let’s not forget being Zeze Takahise singling him out by name–marks him as someone whom Indievisual should keep an eye on.

As Yubari always provides a platform for filmmakers such as Sakamoto to showcase his work and receive feedback from both the audience and his peers, I will make posts about the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival results a regular feature every year from now on; if anything but to keep the spotlight on this festival which still survives by its grassroots beginnings despite the talents and films it has regularly discovered. In the back of my mind, and on a scrap of paper somewhere, I have been planning a feature article for Indievisual designed to give Yubari the same massive (word count) treatment similar to the Osaka Asian Film Festival report spotlighting its roots and the works which have been discovered there over its history. I do not know when this article will be written, but I can only promise that it absolutely will…. Someday.