The inaugural Shinsedai Cinema Festival, a showcase of new, independent Japanese filmmakers, is going on this weekend in Toronto at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. I attended on Saturday and took in 5 films:
- Freeter's Distress, a self-documentary by Hiroki Iwabuchi, a young grad trapped in a low-paying temporary job at a Canon manufacturing plant. A personal look at a wider social and economic problem in Japan, with corporations resorting to more and more temporary workers in an attempt to cut costs, but at the price of trapping a substantial portion of young people in a marginal, hand-to-mouth existence with little prospects for the future. The film is effective at communicating the hard and often demoralizing life, but doesn't always make it easy to sympathize with Iwabuchi as his lethargy often gets the better of him. Also screened with the short film Suzuki & Co.
- The Peaches Programme, three short films all from Peaches, a collective of female Japanese directors. emerger focuses on a neglected housewife desperate for sex and a gay man seeking to reconnect with his ex, who find strength in one another to break out of their relationship dilemmas. Bunny in Hovel sees the return of the prodigal son to a dysfunctional family, which brings up long buried secrets. Csikspost finds a young girl wishing for a new mother and wife for her and her single father. All three films were executed well, although probably liked emerger and Csikspost more (for the latter, in case it's not clear, a doxy is a mistress).
- Little Birds, a documentary from Takeharu Watai, shot inside Iraq from a few days before the US invasion, to a year later. The film contains some powerful imagery as it focuses on the children who become unwilling victims of the conflict and the impact on their families. A few stories become the core of the movie, from a man who loses three of his children to an errant bomb; a boy who loses his hand when he picks up an unexploded munition; and a girl who gets glass embedded in her right eye when an explosion happens next to her house. Also screened with the short Israel Mix, which was a visually interesting film, but in retrospect, I'm not sure it was the best match for the feature.
- Thunderfish, a drama about a photographer who travels to an island searching for his friend after receiving a cryptic phone call. He soon becomes caught up with the odd inhabitants of the island, including an alluring prostitute he becomes enthralled with, only to find a sinister undercurrent to the mysterious goings-on. Director Touru Hano, cinematographer Tetsuhiro Kato, and star Junko Kimoto were in attendance, which was quite welcome for a film that came out in 2005. Hano admitted to some noir influence, but nothing in particular. Kato cited In the Mood for Love and Snow Falling on Cedars as influences from a visual standpoint, and mentioned how the look of this film was in contrast to the desaturated nature of films like Saving Private Ryan. Screened with the short Right Place from Kosai Sekine.
- Electric Button (Moon and Cherry), a funny look at a young university student, Tadokoro, who joins the campus erotic writing club. He soon falls prey to co-member Mayama, a girl who sees Tadokoro as a way around her writer's block by seducing him to get material for her new book. But unexpected consequences result for both her and Tadokoro. A quite enjoyable and touching film.
Overall, a good mix of films, from shorts to features, and documentaries to dramas, with a bit of comedy sprinkled in, and some exposure to filmmakers not normally seen in the West. The day's viewing was also a good way to get geared up for TIFF. Shinsedai continues on Sunday, August 23 with more films, and tickets are still available at the door. Also on Sunday at 4:30 is a roundtable discussion on independent film in Japan which is free to attend.