Sunday, August 29, 2010

[Japanese Film Festival] Directions - NDJC 2008

I had originally intended to skip this session to get much needed rest, but watching the great selection of films from NDJC 2007 graduates convinced me that this morning's session from the graduates of 2008 was worth the getting up early for. Again a mixed bag of films that do their best to appeal to a wide spectrum of audience, one thing you cannot deny is the fact that they are all crafted with technical and storytelling skills.

A Lying Woman's Daybreak
Yuriko the piano teacher is going about her usual classes from the confines of her home studio, until a loud banging sound of nails on her main door interrupts her ongoing class, together with the loud chants of impolite words cursing at her for being the other woman in another marriage. Disgraced, she goes from teacher to becoming a bento preparer/packer, working in a shop until her past accidentally catches up with her.

With the cover of a new life blow, the film moves at a more frenetic pace with the introduction of subplots that make you wonder, here's a film that actually puts the character through the pain of what others have felt before, and the going through of that guilt trip. And the pain Yuriko feels won't be lost on one because it deals with how others will look at and perceive you should there be any whisper of moral wrongdoing, and how at times others will take advantage of situations.

What I thought was poignant in the story was how Yuriko was able to take an objective look from the outside at a predicament similar to what she has gone through, seeing first hand the extremes of a wrath from the side of the wife, and how another is made miserable and to suffer for it, with family members also affected inevitably. Sometimes being embroiled with someone else's problems provide an opportunity to take stock of ours, and the finale, let's just say that it's a life goes on approach, with a long road ahead that requires courage to deal with issues head on.

Urara is a geeky female whose lack of fashion sense and dull attitude makes her the ripe target for bullying by her office colleagues, and even at home, where she suffers in silence since her mom and sister offer her no reprieve from the constant jibes, and worst, contribute some of their own. Then all of a sudden, every repressed feeling has got to be released, and Urara goes through a bizzare and massive transformation from geek to hot chick, like something inside her head finally snapping, and suddenly in her new found confidence, able to take on challenges and succeed.

Perhaps this is a reminder to all out there that the key to a more interesting, fulfilling and colourful life, is courage and confidence to be who you really are, and to be comfortable in one's skin, rather than to force a disguise and then puppet play through your life. You may be geeky and timid, but that doesn't mean continuously taking the shit from everyone around you. One tip though in the film, Smile! It's really totally different if you beam wide with pride and genuine happiness, and seriously, I'm in love with Urara's smile that in a single scene just assures you that all is going to be well.

Curiously though, this film ended in almost similarly uncanny ways as the earlier short, as it had the protagonist on a mounted vehicle riding toward a seemingly endless road ahead, which promises of a better life since they are headlong toward a destination far away.

The Sparkling Amber
I had thought the first short would likely be a firm favourite, until this one came along that justified the 2.5 hours put into watching the class of 2008. Ryoko lives with her widower dad and twice a week his new girlfriend Michiko will come visit. It's still new into their relationship and understandably Ryoko is apprehensive about the intents of Michiko like all daughters would when there's an appearance of another woman perhaps competing for her dad's affections. But the outcome of this film after its set up for something big with a urine test and Ryoko's dad becoming a substitute, makes this an interesting tale on a rather dysfunctional family trying hard to be normal, and what comes out of it is an episode that reinforces family ties and love.

It's a fine family drama that deals with the dread of loss, with the audience in on it with additional knowledge of how it's going to develop, only for the director to pull the rug from under our feet in a way we'd appreciate that it's done.This interesting twist compensates for the downcast feelings of unnecessary distress since you're likely to feel for the characters thanks in large parts to the actors' performances, and has enough bittersweet moments in it. They inevitably engage and draw you into their family. Film also highlights the power of close family ties and love within those who share the same blood (and the wannabes) although I was a little bit let down by the final revelation on the outcome of this unique family unit that shared a memorable event together.

There's a small scene which was quite morbid, and frankly I thought that if a lot would be loss if this scene was snipped. Thankfully good senses prevailed and it was't a hasty decision made without seeing the whole film in context.

This edition is like a pendulum swing, where the previous was something satisfying and touching, but this particular one being quite baffling. Michiyo and her mom relocates to the countryside, and en route to and from her new school, Michiyo passes by a mysterious looking well in the middle of a sprawling field. For some reason, she enjoys standing on it, deciding to live dangerously. You'd come half expecting something to jump out from the well and scare the living daylights out of her. But no, and instead, you get a mysterious old man popping up, someone who deems himself a demon of sorts predicting Michiyo's death in 3 days. What happens will tread the realm of the fantastical, and frankly, not a favourite of mind although like the previous edition you got to tip your hat to the director's bold vision and idea in willingness to try something challenging.

A Third Skin
And to round things up is a musical piece that's touching yet sad at the same time. We follow the routine of a young homeless pianist who plays for his passion, which is to spread the love through free music, playing in a park for all and sundry to enjoy the simple pleasures of listening to an aurally pleasing tune. At the end of a session he'll wrap everything up and push his piano to a corner, waking up the next day to perform again. Alas a group of violent teenage ruffians decide to change all that, and through their inexplicable and destructive ways, burn the piano.

Help comes in the form of another homeless lady who lives in an abandoned tunnel, where she has amongst her found possessions, an old piano that needed some serious tuning. Through the repairing of an instrument comes a story of friendship, and the give and take of one, where a shared connection doesn't always mean taking and not giving, which is clearly meted out here with invaluable gifts that friends bring to the table. Like the films before it, the film also opts for a rather bittersweet ending since a piece of unfinished business gets completed, but at what a price. You'd definitely wonder why the need to end it the way that it did, although it certainly steered clear from the usual conventions.

Perhaps that's how the group of filmmakers were chosen each year, for that extra something that they bring and contribute, rather than to rely on the same old without the courage to challenge conventions and tell bold, original stories.

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