UK Anime Network Reviews ASFF 2014 Japan Guest Country Screening and Q&A

UK Anime Network reviews the Japan Guest Country Screening at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2014, sponsored by the Japan Foundation and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, and presented in collaboration with Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia. The screenings provided an opportunity for audiences to experience new and innovative works from the Japanese film industry in a unique cinema space right in the heart of York. The first screening was followed by a Q&A with Aki Isoyama, Film Festival Programmer at Short Shorts and Minoru Takeuchi, director of experimental documentary Ting Dong. We highlight the review courtesy of UK Anime Network.

Taking place across four days and screening around three hundred films in fifteen venues across the historic city of York, the Aesthetica Short Film Festival provides a unique experience for movie-goers across a wide range of tastes and interests, whether you’re a die-hard film buff or simply after a taste of something different. This year the programme included a selection of Japanese short films, sponsored by the Japan Foundation and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, that were on show at the Thirteen Thirty One café-bar and the Bootham School Arts Centre on November 7 and 9 respectively.

The November 7 screening was followed by a Q&A session featuring two directors: Minoru Takeuchi, co-director of one of the films on show, and Aki Isoyama, representative from the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia. Thirteen Thirty One’s attic cinema proved to be the perfect setting for the screening: with reclining seats and beanbag chairs, and with food and drink close at hand downstairs, it’s a cosy and comfortable space tucked away in the maze of cobbled streets a few minutes walk from the city centre’s shops and tourist attractions.

With the scene set, let’s take a look over some of the myriad films that were screened at the event.

A Butterfly on her Breast (Yuki Saito)
This is a thoughtful portrayal of the trials associated with adolescence, bereavement and family upheavals; all seen through the eyes of a lonely teenager who is coming to terms with the death of her grandmother and her strained relationship with her mother. It sets the tone for the screenings as a whole: it skilfully draws attention to the more low-key and everyday subjects rarely explored by more ambitious full-length features, all in the space of a few minutes.

Hashi no Mukou (Shigeyoshi Tsukahara)
The only animated title in this particular selection was a dark and rather stylised war drama, visually reminiscent of Katshiro Otomo’s Cannon Fodder with the grim pessimism of its urban backdrop. The mournful soundtrack and steampunk aesthetic lend a thick atmosphere of tension and unease as a young reporter tries to make sense of the civil unrest and rumours of missing children, while haunted by her own childhood memories.

Empty House (Kei Chikaura)
The highly-acclaimed Veteran actor Tatsuya Fuji stars alongside newcomer Coco Isuzu in another short tale of awkward parent-child relationships. This to me neatly highlighted the charms of independent short film: the minimalist approach gives a less-is-more feel to the proceedings, giving space to let the actors shine and lending emotional weight to seemingly uneventful situations.

Koyuki’s Wandering Football (Satsuki Okawa)
The 2011 Touhoku earthquake destroyed lives and livelihoods, but led a number of artists and film-makers to reflect on its aftermath through their art. This uplifting tale follows one young girl’s mission to help her father by making a replacement for his prized possession: a football signed by his childhood friends that had been lost in the tsunami. The quirky premise leads to a heartwarming example of concise storytelling and subtle social commentary.

Ting Dong (Minoru Takeuchi & Hiroshi Kuboyama)
The final offering is a cinematic portrait of chindon’ya, a little-known and traditional type of street entertainment that dates back to the Edo period and can be best described as Japanese theatre married to live advertising. With footage shot in both street and studio, Takeuchi and Kuboyama draw attention to the music, choreography and vibrant colour, while also capturing the peculiar spectacle of this obscure art in its natural setting.

Q&A with Aki Isoyama and Minoru Takeuchi
In the Q&A panel that followed, Takeuchi expanded on his interest in, and motives behind, filming this unusual subject matter as a documentary, highlighting his background as a cameraman and photographer and his desire to capture this bright and visually dazzling tradition before its decline erases it from history.

Isoyama, who has experience as a film director in her own right as well as a promoter of short films on the festival circuit, also took questions and explained the intentions behind the screening of these titles. As with many areas of the Japanese film industry, there are stereotypes that they want to overcome, and certain genres do not get as much exposure abroad as they perhaps deserve. Events such as this – showcasing the work of independent and less well-known directors – are, she believes, a valuable opportunity to reach out to new audiences.

One observation raised was that many of the films on show here star female protagonists; a detail that may perhaps be surprising in a male-dominated industry. Again, this could be attributed to the independent, low-profile nature of these titles and the creative freedom that results, but it was also suggested that the likes of legendary actress Setsuko Hara may have influenced a tradition that continues to this day.

Also discussed was the more general fact that, in the cosmopolitan environment of Tokyo at least, film-goers are offered more choice so access to new content is easier. Nevertheless, around sixty per cent of the country’s movie output is that of TV-to-cinema adaptations and other features that are aimed at the domestic market. The intention for this event was to bring the less well-known features to an overseas audience, offering something interesting and a bit different in the process. I’d certainly say they succeeded, and I look forward to seeing what is on offer next year.

Read the review on UK Anime Network here:

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1. Kei Chikaura, still from Empty House.