Saturday, August 28, 2010

[Japanese Film Festival] Directions - NDJC 2007

This weekend's installment consists of another section that the Festival is focusing on in alignment with its theme of Youth, and that's the New Directions in Japanese Cinema, selecting short films that are part of the yearly 5 shorts output under VIPO (Visual Industry Promotion Organization) where film-making skills are imparted to young creative talents, and they're put through the paces to make 30 minute films on 35mm. The goal of course is to discover the next generation of Japanese feature film directors, and looking at the varied works of what's in store, you'd never know if one of them will make the jump to the feature real soon. Today's session is taken from the 2007 graduates, and tomorrow's will be from the 2008 batch.

A Bus To Heaven
Amongst all the shorts today, this remained my firm favourite, perhaps because I have a soft spot for romantic tales. We see two friends Yuzo and Tora celebrating the former's birthday in a restaurant, although it was supposed to be Yuzo celebrating with his girlfriend Miki, if not for an argument arising from Armageddon (Bruce Virus and Liv Lighter, ha!) - another reference to this Michael Bay film from the Festival selection - and the discovery that Miki is actually a hostess aspiring to be an actress. Yuzo is unable to accept this deception and her choice of a career, hence their separation.

The second act takes place on a "party bus", so deemed by Tora as a birthday gift to Yuzo because it is the public bus ride from Shibuya via Roppongi to Shinbashi that is packed with hostesses seated at the back of the bus, and Tora being prepared to let out the secret of his picking up of women that involves being the livewire in a makeshift party atmosphere onboard. I really wonder if this can happen in Singapore! It is through this act that we see how Yuzo has his mind broadened, that we should not judge a person by their occupation - it's still an honest means of living, and they are human too with dreams of their own.

The last part is of course having everything pan out as intended, focused on reconciliation and frankly, here's where the saccharine sweet moments come in when a man with his mind open can start to humble himself and take the initiative to pursue his path to happiness, with a little help from the outside from friends who care, and bother to make things happen. Comes complete with generous doses of comedy!

Good Bye, George Adamski
And yet we begin the film set in another bus! We see a man with a pacemaker at the priority seat creating a scene with every passenger who sits beside him and whipping out their mobile phone. In what would be a case of serendipity, this man Sadayuki, turns out to be the childhood friend of Haruo, whom Sadayuki had chased away from the seat earlier. We then learn from Haruo's flashback about Sadayuki back during their school days, where the latter was obsessed with UFOs, and tragedy struck him when they were en route to a forested mountaintop.

Now having to bump into Haruo again, Sadayuki managed to convince Haruo into following him to meet up with Nagasawa the UFOlogist, and that forms the basis of this story about friendship, and how no matter how crazy it may be or sound, friends when we bump into each other, almost always continue where we last left off. Some light comedy found itself through to the delusions of Sadayuki who adamantly believes he and his friends have been inserted by alien microchips, as well as his perverted pranks played on unsuspecting females by the lifting of their skirts, which will prove to be his downfall.

It's a little bittersweet because as a friend, you do no know whether to walk away from someone who behaves so irrationally, or to stick to him thin and thick because after all, that's what friends are for.

Seismic Girl
If delusional characters aren't enough in the previous film, then Seismic Girl will more than compensate that for you. Here, Mitsuko brandishes a knife from he onset, and we here her state her fears of having Satoshi to pursue his earthquake research dream in the USA, because his ex-girlfriend Yuri will be in tow as a fellow roommate. I suppose it boils down to trust, though understandably for someone like Mitsuko, she fears the threat posed by Yuri, who comes from a pedigree family.

Hearing about the legend of the Catfish Stone, said to have prevented earthquakes from being felt in the town of Miyama, Mitsuko makes plans to get rid of this stone because if quakes existed in their town, then her boyfriend will find no reason to go overseas since they happen at their doorstep. This leads to a catfight between two women out to ensure that their beloved man chooses them over the other, and what happens in the end seemed like a karmic wheel of transformation because one has defiled an artifact out of sheer frustration. Moral of the story - never step on two boats with one leg.

This is perhaps the most ambitious short of the lot presented today, consisting of only 1 leading actor and 2 support ones, in what would be an unconventional tale told in a fairly abstract fashion that dwells on the notion of what if a plant or tree, being living things, can talk, and what they will feel about and talk about on a daily basis. We see a man in a hole in the ground, but this man is no man, and his monologue is not about escape, but rather an observation on the things that he saw while being rooted to the ground. It's a talking, singing man-plant, specimen 4923!

It's almost as if it's a one man monologue throughout if not for a little boy who comes round to play with whatever's available, symbolizing how the young can embrace nature, and an older man who is the tree doctor, ensuring all tree samplings have the opportunity to grow big and strong... unless Nature has other plans such as the threat of a lighting strike. It's a nature story, and it is to the actor's credit that he is able to keep us engaged with his tree-like antics.

Restaurant UFO
This is my second favourite short this morning, set in a town famous for its UFO sightings, so much so that all businesses will declare a 50% off on days when a UFO is sighted. But of course the story tells more of this, and at one point talks about its low birthrates, as all the girls in the town are moving to the bigger cities for a chance at better opportunities in life. Schoolgirl Yu also harbours the same hopes, and is contemplating delivering newspapers to get a scholarship to enter a university in Tokyo.

But of course this migration will mean to leave her dad's restaurant, much to her dad's displeasure. We see how Yu is a critical resource to his business since her mom had walked out on them for another man. And we know how busy business can be when UFO sightings are reported and the business has to honour its discounts, made worse when unscrupulous business people take advantage of such clauses to help boost sales when more people hit the shops to enjoy up to 50% off. Talk about exploitation, and the calling in of fake sightings.

For a film that's 30 minutes long, it sure packed a couple of subplots, including Yu's conversations with Takeshi, a boy who had chosen to abandon Tokyo to return home to help out in his dad's business, as well as the reappearance of Yu's mom to seek her family's forgiveness. In some ways the film talks about how any youth will want to take advantage of their natural desire to want to seek flight from home to journey the world in search of their oyster, and yet how at the end there is almost always no place like home. It's incredibly moving toward the end even though it started off with a quirky premise, and has its beautiful snowing landscape at one point to thank for that made this film a beauty to look at.

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