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