News and Opinion

I am still amazed by those who have the time to maintain a blog. I don't, so the best I can offer here is occasional short bits of news and observations. 

I have disabled comments for this site. If you want to discuss Japanese cinema, please join KineJapan, the list for which I serve as co-owner. 

Of Sea and Soil: The Cinema of Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Ogawa Shinsuke

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As I mentioned in my last post, I went to Ghent in Belgium at the beginning of April to participate in the Courtisane Festival 2019. The Festival was holding a mini-retrospective of the documentaries of Tsuchimoto Noriaki and I was invited to give a talk, entitled “Tsuchimoto Noriaki, Minamata, and Japanese Documentary," and introduce a couple of his films. It was a wonderful festival—small but focused—and I was thrilled to see that most of the Tsuchimoto films were practically sold out. It was also a pleasure to see Paolo Rocha’s A Ilha de Moraes (1984), an intriguing documentary by the Portuguese director about the Portuguese writer and diplomat Wenceslau de Moraes, who ended up living the last portion of his life in Japan. 

Courtisane also produced a catalog of the Tsuchimoto retrospective, in collaboration with Cinematek in Brussels, which did an Ogawa Shinsuke retro. I contributed an essay to Of Sea and Soil: The Cinema of Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Ogawa Shinsuke entitled “Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Environment in Documentary Film,” which attempts to consider how Tsuchimoto’s environmentalism is based not simply in his film content but also his film form. 

Tsuchimoto Noriaki at Courtisane

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Just a quick note, but I will be traveling to Ghent in Belgium this week to participate in Courtisane Festival 2019. This year’s film festival will feature the sidebar “Artist in Focus: Tsuchimoto Noriaki” and I have been invited to give a talk on Tsuchimoto and the background to his films. The Festival will show seven of Tsuchimoto’s works:

  • An Engineer’s Assistant
  • On the Road
  • Exchange Student Chua Swee-Lin
  • Prehistory of the Partisans
  • Minamata: The Victims and Their World
  • The Shiranui Sea
  • Umitori—The Stolen Sea at the Shimokita Peninsula 

My talk will be on Saturday, April 6, at 15:00 in the Paddenhoek. The page on the retrospective is here

In addition to talking about Tsuchimoto, Minamata, Iwanami, and his approach to documentary, using several clips from his films, I will introduce the Tsuchimoto Collection, his personal papers that have been donated to Yale. Not just their contents, but the Collection itself I think speaks to important aspects of his character and approach to cinema. 

If you are in Belgium, come and say hello. If not, stay tuned for future announcements about Tsuchimoto related events and developments.

UPDATE: I posted about the catalog for the Tsuchimoto and Ogawa Shinsuke retros being made available on line. Check it out here.

Best 30 Japanese Films…of 1989–1997

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I’ve been uploading some of my old articles to the Yale repository, but most have been the ones in English. This time I decided to upload a rather unique piece I did in 1997.

As some of you know, I picked the best ten Japanese films of the year for the annual Eiga geijutsu poll for a number of years. But my first experience in producing a “best” list for publication was a few years before that in 1997, when the Japanese intellectual journal Yuriika (Eureka) asked me to produce a list for a special issue devoted to the theme "Japanese Cinema: From Kitano Takeshi On." I was asked to write an article selecting the thirty best Japanese films made since Kitano Takeshi debuted as a director in 1989. The time span and the number of films was the editor’s choice, but the project intrigued me as an assertion not only that a period of cinema began in 1989, but also that the period was significantly defined by Kitano. I of course cited that in my book on him.

I was also intrigued by the possibility of selecting what is “the best.” Yes, there was a tiny bit of excitement over participating in the process of canon formation (though frankly I don’t think anyone has ever cited this list as a canon former), but I was more enthusiastic about being able to support some excellent films, including a few virtually unknown works. More importantly, this was an opportunity for a precocious young scholar to interrogate the concept of the “best” list itself. In the end, I selected films that themselves questioned the categories assumed by the list itself, particularly the notions of “Japan” and “cinema.” 

Kinema Club XVIII: Gender and Sexuality in Japanese Cinema

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Our big Japanese film event at Yale this academic year is the Kinema Club conference, which is taking place February 22-24, 2019. As some of you know, Kinema Club has been around for over twenty years, serving as an informal network of those interested in Japanese film and media, including academics and non-academics. In the early years, it was primarily a means for exchanging information, but we soon took advantage of the internet and started a website at Ohio State University and began the KineJapan mailing list. We moved the website to Yale a few years ago (you can see it here), and last year moved the mail server for KineJapan to Yale as well. In the age of many other social media options, the old-fashioned mailing list is still very strong at KineJapan. You are welcome to subscribe here.

Although Kinema Club has no officers, no constitution, or membership fees, it has successfully put on conferences nearly every year in places ranging from Japan, the USA, Germany, Austria, and the UK. As a somewhat anarchistic organization, it has largely depended on a local institution or group of people to host the conference—and then everyone tries to go. Yale has hosted the event twice before: Kinema Club VII in 2006 (with Kurosawa Kiyoshi as a guest) and Kinema Club XII in 2013. Given Kinema Club’s anarchic nature, the  formats of the conferences have varied, from full-fledged conferences with papers read to small workshops where the papers are distributed beforehand and participants only discuss them (that was what KC XII was like). 

Repetition and Rupture in the Films of Kawase Naomi

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I hope everyone has been enjoying the new year of 2019. As some of you have noticed, I have tried to use the holiday break to update Tangemania, for instance by starting a new page on my Journal Articles (I’m not sure why I didn’t do that before), as well as adding more links on the site to my articles available on the Yale repository.

In the midst of doing that, I realized that I had some time ago uploaded my article on the film director and documentarist Kawase Naomi to the repository without announcing it here. Kawase-san and I go back a ways. I was one of the first to program her works at an international film festival (the New Asian Currents program of the 1995 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival), and also interviewed her in 2000 for the YIDFF periodical, Documentary Box (see the interview here). We were close enough that my wife and I had her over for dinner at our house, and when the Infinity Film Festival in Italy did one of the first retrospectives of her work in Europe in 2002, I was invited as the outside expert, and did a day-long workshop with her. I sadly have not had much contact with her in the last decade, and some people I know grumble that as she has grown famous she has distanced herself from the people who helped her get started, but I still eagerly await her new films, even as I remain occasionally critical of them (like with Kitano, I tend to be a fan of the early work). 

Rediscovering Classical Japanese Film Theory: An Anthology

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It’s finally out!

As many of you know, Markus Nornes and I have been working on an anthology of Japanese film theory for over a decade. The English one is still in the works, but the first volume of the Japanese edition is finally out from Yumani Shobo under the title Nihon senzen eigaronshu: Eiga riron no saihakken. The title in English is Rediscovering Classical Japanese Film Theory: An Anthology.

It is really the first of its kind even in Japan. There have been collections of writings on film in Japan, but whenever there is a collection of “film theory” (eiga riron), almost all the authors are foreign. It is as if “film theory” did not or does not exist in Japan. This is a problem I have called the “theory complex” in a previous article (available here). 

There is and has been, however, a plethora of fascinating and stimulating writing about the nature of cinema—what anyone would call “theory”—in Japan since the first years of cinema, some of which I have been introducing for over two decades, starting with the work of Gonda Yasunosuke (an example is here). Others have been investigating Japanese film theory as well, and so Markus and I started putting together a table of contents for what could become an anthology of the more interesting theoretical pieces on Japan. The themed issue of the Review of Japanese Culture and Society I edited in 2010 was a test run of such an anthology. 

A Prehistory of Japanese Sci-Fi and Fantasy Cinema

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Continuing my project of uploading old articles onto the Yale repository, I recently uploaded a more recent piece on the history of Japanese science fiction and fantasy films in the prewar era. Mark Schilling, who has programmed several marvelous retrospectives at the Udine Far East Film Festival, put together a series for the 2016 edition entitled “Beyond Godzilla: Alternative Futures and Fantasies in Japanese Cinema” to give audiences a sense of how rich Japanese sci-fi and fantasy film is beyond the big green monster. He kindly asked me to pen a piece on prewar works for the catalog of the retrospective.

Prewar Japanese science fiction and fantasy film remains relatively unknown, primarily because not too many films were made and few prints have survived. As I argue in the piece, against a film culture that valorized realism, such works were often confined to the margins of the industry, with movies like the legendary King Kong Appears in Edo (1938; an ad for the film is on the right) or The Steel Man (1938; featuring samurai battling a robot) mostly being produced by third-rung studios. Toho was the exception, making for instance the time-slip film Shimizu Harbor, Part II (1940) or Son Goku (1940), and thus helping lay the foundations for Godzilla and postwar tokusatsu films. Son Goku was Tsuburaya Eiji’s first SFX flick for Toho, so I couldn’t help but talk about his beginnings as a camera assistant on Page of Madness (1926), one of prewar Japan’s most complex and inventive films in terms of camera effects. (An introduction to my book on the film is here.)

An Old and New Interview with Hara Kazuo

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Sorry for the paucity of posts. After a year in Japan, I have returned to Yale and been bombarded with work. One of my last gigs in Japan, however, was a conversation on 18 August 2018 with the documentarist Hara Kazuo after a screening of his A Dedicated Life (Zenshin shōsetsuka, 1994), which was shown as part of a retrospective of his work at Uplink in Shibuya (an image of the flyer is on the right). It was the first time I had done an event with Hara-san since the Berkeley conference in May 2009 dedicated to him. The theater was basically full and we had a great conversation.

The talk centered on a number of interesting connections. On a personal side, A Dedicated Life recalled my first interview with Hara-san back in 1993 for Documentary Box, the journal of the Yamagata Film Festival that I later edited for a couple of years. In it, he talked about the difficulty of filming a subject who was gradually fading away in front of his eyes. In this case, it was the novelist Inoue Mitsuharu, whom Hara started filming only to find out he had cancer. Inoue was one of those nonconformist characters Hara likes to focus on like Okuzaki Kenzo of Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987) fame, one who stand out in society. Inoue was not only a forceful presence, who performs his idiosyncrasy, but also a womanizer. Yet his body slowly wears away on screen. Hara-san talked about the difficulty of filming such a disappearing subject.

Reorienting Ozu: Hasumi Shigehiko, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Asia

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As part of my research on the history of Japanese film theory, I have taken advantage of opportunities here and there to approach the subject—and individual thinkers in particular—from various angles. One such occasion was a conference in Berkeley in 2010 centered on the place of Ozu Yasujiro within Asian cinema. I took the opportunity to triangulate some relations that, while not always direct, were suggestive not just about Ozu but also about the place of theory in contemporary Japan. In particular, noting the often facile comparisons between Ozu and the Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, I wondered if there was not a better way to relate the two filmmakers by considering the thinking of Hasumi Shigehiko, the famed film critic and university president who was a champion of both Ozu and Hou. Even if he denied any direct similarity between the two, his approach to the two reveals both how contemporary Japanese theoretical discourse articulates the cinema and the Ozu-qua-Hasumi context behind Hou’s reception in Japan. My contribution also served as a good opportunity to summarize Hasumi’s approach to cinema—which can be highly theoretical even as it resists theory.

Conversations in Silence 2: Fukujuso and Queer Japanese Cinema in the 1930s

I reported on the first edition of Conversations in Silence back in April. On June 11, we held the second session at Haremame, again with Kataoka Ichiro serving as benshi and Kikuchi Naruyoshi deejaying music. This time the theme was “LGBT” and we showed a rare and fascinating film made by Shinko Kinema in 1935 entitled Fukujuso (director: Kawate Jiro). The film was released as a “sound-ban,” which means it had music and possibly sound effects on the sound track, but the sound no longer exists, so we showed it as a silent film. It is based on one of the stories in Yoshiya Nobuko’s Hana monogatari, and was the first of a couple films made at the time using that work. What was so interesting about the film was that it appears to strongly depict the love between two women.

Fukujuso

Often considered a pioneer of shojo shosetsu, Yoshiya has garnered much interest recently, as her stories narrated in elegant Japanese of the friendships of young women, often in boarding schools, have been interpreted through queer readings as explorations of lesbian sexuality. In the United States, for instance, Sarah Frederick at Boston University has been writing on and translating Yoshiya’s literature (here is one essay).

Rare Record of Japanese Movie Theater Advertising Troupe from 1929

A few people have been sharing online a YouTube video purporting to show street scenes in Kyoto from 1929. I was suspicious at first, since the same YouTube user previously also uploaded footage from the 1910s with sound the user added. But it does seem the video is a collection of authentic sound films of Japan in 1929, taken by Fox Movietone cameramen. The combination is sloppy, however, since at least one of scenes is not from Kyoto but from Kamakura.

What I find annoying is that these videos are not this user’s own films, but taken lock stock and barrel from the Moving Image Research Collections of the University of South Carolina. You can tell that from the watermark in the footage, but the user does little to foreground where s/he took this footage from, even though the Collection website states that "The University owns the rights to most of the material held by MIRC.” Archives, who do the hard and essential work of accumulating, preserving, and in this case, digitizing and making available online old films, should get proper credit.

Realism and the History of Japan-Soviet Film Interactions

I am currently trying to finish up my book on the history of Japanese film theory. One of the chapters I've recently worked on focused on Iwasaki Akira, arguably the most prominent leftwing critic in Japan from the 1920s to the 1970s. He’s both a legendary figure, one involved in many of the major trends in political cinema, as well as a contradictory one, as he problematically tread the spaces between cinematic art, Marxism, Soviet socialist realism, and humanism.

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Anastasia Fedorova has just published a fascinating book that accounts for part of the background for a person like Iwasaki. The title “Riarizumu no genso” can be translated as “The Illusion of Realism” and it offers a narrative that covers a significant aspect in Japanese cinema’s complex relation to realism: its interactions with Soviet cinema. She begins by detailing how Soviet avant-garde cinema and montage theory affected the mainstream Japanese film world in the 1920s and 1930s as a form of realism, one so powerful that there was even an early attempt at Japan-USSR collaboration in the 1933 travel film, Big Tokyo, directed by Vladimir Shneiderov (the book includes a transcript of the Soviet version of the film). It was the failure of that film, she argues, that led to a different Japanese appropriation of Soviet film technique in the name of politics and national culture by the documentarist Kamei Fumio, who actually studied in Moscow. The story continues into the postwar, as she first shows how a different realism—socialist realism—affected postwar Japanese film, especially the leftwing independent films of the 1950s that have largely been ignored in scholarship in Japan and the USA. Then, in what is likely to be one of the book’s most significant contributions, she argues that Japanese leftwing films’ particular appropriation of socialist realism—her main example is Kamei’s Woman Walking Alone on the Earth (Onna hitori daichi o yuku, 1953)—subsequently affected Soviet film by showing Russian filmmakers what a post-thaw cinema could look like. 

Kawabata and Cinema: The Ambivalence of Knowledge, Medium, and Influence

In 2014 I had the fortune of participating in an international symposium on the Nobel Prize winning novelist, Kawabata Yasunari, that took place in Paris. I wrote about that experience here. There I spoke about Kawabata’s relationship with cinema, a topic that was an extension of my book on A Page of Madness, a film which Kawabata helped create. Through the hard work of Wada Hirofumi and others, a Japanese anthology emerged first from that conference at the end of 2016, which contains a short version of my paper on Kawabata and film (I introduced that here). 

Well, the full version in English finally came out in January of this year. Thanks to the diligence of Michael Bourdaghs and others, the journal Japan Forum published an issue devoted to the theme “Kawabata Yasunari in the Twenty-First Century” largely composed of selected papers from the symposium. It features a wonderful piece by the novelist Tawada Yoko, as well as thought provoking scholarly articles by Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, Kono Kensuke, Nihei Masato, Tomi Suzuki, and Wada Hirofumi. 

Conversations in Silence 1: A Page of Madness, a Benshi, and Music

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I forgot to announce this before it happened, but last week on April 5th, I got to participate in a rather unique event centered on Kinugasa Teinosuke’s A Page of Madness (Kurutta ichipeiji), about which I wrote a book. At the event space Haretara Sora ni Mame Maite (meaning “When it clears sow beans in the sky”—or Haremame for short), there was a screening of the film with Kataoka Ichiro doing benshi narration and the jazz musician Kikuchi Naruyoshi deejaying music for the film. Since Haremame is a small but delightful space (with tatami mats!), we used the Blu-ray of the film I discussed earlier, with permission from Flicker Alley. I introduced the film and MC’d the after-screening discussion. It was the first in a series of three silent film events called “Conversations in Silence” that the three of us will be doing at Haremame.

As I mentioned in the book, there is no historical record (that I could find), of the music that was performed with the film upon its first release, or of the style of benshi narration. What I could find is that it showed at the Tokyokan narrated by Ishii Masami and Tamai Kyokuyo with music selected by Oshima Kyotaro, or at Kyoto’s Shochikuza with Ishida Kyokka as the benshi and music arranged by Sasai Sei, to provide two instances. The great benshi Tokugawa Musei did perform the narration at Shinjuku’s Musashinokan, and there is a chance he did it in a style similar to his explanation of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (check out Kyoko Omori’s collection of clips of Caligari synched with a recording of the narration that Musei provided in 1968), since Page of Madness was influenced by that work. But Naoki Sanjugo (after whom the Naoki Prize is named), when noting Musashinokan audience members praising Musei for explaining that incomprehensible film, complained that it was contradictory for a film that rejected intertitles, if not also conventional meaning making, to have a benshi. So there was the question of what role sound—both words and music—was supposed to play with this supposedly avant-garde film.

Murakami Haruki and Cinema

Just a quick note to say that I will be participating in an international colloquium on Murakami Haruki that will take place in Strasbourg and Paris this week. Hosted by Antonin Bechler of the Université de Strasbourg and Hitoshi Ishida of Toyo University, the "Colloque international 'Haruki Murakami au présent et au futur'" features a great set of participants, including a few from the Kawabata symposium in Paris a few years back. I will actually appear in the Paris section of the colloquium, which will take place at the Maison de la Culture du Japon à Paris on March 17, just like with the Kawabata event. I will be on a panel that will focus on Murakami’s relation to cinema. It might not be well known, but Murakami was not only an avid film fan, but he actually majored in film in college, hoping to become a screenwriter. (One paper will talk about why he didn’t become one.) My talk will be a sort of continuation of my writing on Kawabata Yasunari and film, which started with the book on A Page of Madness and continued with other publications such as this. I question the tendency to discuss the relation between film and literature by presuming a notion of cinema and then attempting to find “cinematic” elements in literature. I ask first what concept or even theory of cinema literary figures might have before considering how that shapes their writing. For the Murakami colloquium, I take the fact that Murakami, while in general refusing to allow film adaptations of most of his work, quite readily allows students to make short films based on his works (he told me that when at Yale), to consider whether that does not evince another conception of cinema on Murakami’s part.

Finally, a DVD (Actually a Blu-ray) of A Page of Madness Is Out

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I published my book on Kinugasa Teinosuke’s silent masterpiece A Page of Madness (狂った一頁, Kurutta ichipeiji, 1926) nearly ten years ago. One of my main regrets is that there has been no DVD of the film available for people to watch as they read my book or as the book is taught in classes. I have written about this before, but the National Film Center in Japan has the best print of the film (one that has been restored to its original silent aspect ratio) and has been trying to put out a DVD for years. Their lack of experience in publishing a DVD and some issues with Kinugasa’s family had long delayed the project. (Until recently, they didn’t even lend out the print because of that problem with the family.) I told them that if they don’t act soon, someone else will put out a DVD, which is what happened with a cut-rate DVD of Kinugasa’s Crossroads (Jujiro, 1928) that came out in 2009.

Well, someone has. And unlike the cheap DVD of Crossroads (which is in fact not that bad), this has actually been produced by a respectable place. The film preservationist David Shepard collaborated with Flicker Alley to put out a Blu-ray disk of A Page of Madness from a good 16mm print (likely from the once-circulating Blackhawk Films collection Shepard bought—this was probably the print I saw in graduate school when I first viewed A Page of Madness). The disk also includes Henwar Rodakiewicz’s Portrait of a Young Man (1925-31). As a bonus, there is an episode of CUNY TV’s "Cinema Then Cinema Now” featuring host Jerry Carlson leading a discussion on the film with psychoanalyst Dr. Harvey Roy Greenberg and film historian Joseph Anderson (not all they say is accurate, but the discussion is interesting nonetheless). As an online extra, Flicker Alley has posted on their site one of my essays on the film, entitled “A Page of Madness: Understanding a Work in its Time," that I penned when I was first writing the book. You can access that here.

Woman Rush Hour and Political Humor in Japan

I like a good laugh, and that is one reason I have always been interested in comedy in Japan. I wrote a book about a comedian turned film director (who didn’t shoot that many comedies), have often sought out comedy films, and even have made going to lots of yose to watch rakugo and manzai one of my goals this year in Japan. I sometimes consider it a challenge to myself, as jokes can in some cases be one of the hardest aspects to understand about a foreign culture, but it also is a way of approaching Japan from a different direction.

The manzai team Woman Rush Hour did an act on TV recently that has made me think about comedy in Japan again.

One difference that observers have noted regarding humor in Japan is the seeming lack of political satire in Japan. Although it seems that comedy in the United States, and in many other countries as well, is dominated by political humor, to the point that such comedy can be more trusted by young people for its political analysis than regular news media, there appears to be virtually none of that in Japan. I’ve read many bad explanations of that, ranging from the old claim (which I in fact encountered when I was younger) that Japanese don’t have much of a sense of humor to the Japanese-supported stereotype that such humor is not welcome in a society focused on harmony. The first is simply a product of orientalist ignorance (anyone who has been to a yose knows that Japanese comedians can be hilarious) and the second just ignores history. In fact, there have been plenty of cases of political humor from the Edo era on. Just listen to Enoken’s amazing “Is This What They Call Freedom?” from 1954—which satirizes American H-bomb tests, the Cold War “peace,” Japan’s subservient relation to the USA, the SDF, and postwar Japanese politics—and you can see there has been very biting political comedy on a popular level from long ago.

The Nichigei Film Festival: Cinema, the Emperor, and The Solitary One

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In coming to Japan for this year of research, I was eagerly expecting my first attendance at the Yamagata, Tokyo, and Filmex film festivals in eight years, even if I knew their plusses and minuses. But I was also very pleased to go to a festival that I learned about for the first time: the Nichigei Film Festival, which took place in December.

“Nichigei” stands for the Nihon Daigaku Geijutsu Gakubu, or Nihon University College of Art. The study of film at Nichidai goes back to at least 1929 and has been one of the core courses of the College of Art since it was formed in 1949. The focus has been on production, with such graduates as Ishii Gakuryū, Matsuoka Jōji, Kanai Katsu, and Adachi Masao, although there are also students researching film history. Faculty have included Ushihara Kiyohiko and Tanaka Jun’ichirō.

One of the current professors is Koga Futoshi, who has had a long career starting at the Japan Foundation and continuing with the Asahi Shinbun newspaper. At both, he organized a large number of film events and festivals. He still writes a lot on film (check out his blog) and was a member of the Asahi ratings panel with me at the TIFF. After becoming a professor at Nichigei, Koga has taught a variety of courses, but quite interestingly one for third year students is about film programming. As the main assignment for the course, students have to plan and put on a film festival of their own that will show at a regular commercial theater. This is the Nichigei Film Festival. They start by having each student put together a serious proposal for a festival, from which the best are selected and presented to Eurospace, an art theater in Shibuya, which then selects the one to put on. The students then have to arrange for renting the films, creating a catalog, arranging for advertising, and inviting guests. They then have to run the week-long festival once it starts.

TOKYO FILMeX 2017 and the Independent Cinema Guild

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Fall is the main film festival season in Japan (see my reports on this year's YIDFF and TIFF editions here, here, and here), but not all festivals are the same. Yamagata, of course, focuses on documentary (though the definition of documentary is flexible enough to allow for a wide variety of films), and the Tokyo Film Festival aims at being the Japanese edition of Cannes.

TIFF doesn’t succeed at that, which is why festivals such as Tokyo Filmex have stepped in to fill some of the gaps. Filmex is much smaller in comparison to TIFF, but it purposely avoids the big commercial films that TIFF is happy to show, concentrating instead on mostly independent films. Asia is largely the focus, and only a choice few Japanese films get shown. One exception has been the retrospective section. If the Tokyo Film Festival has largely abandoned the role a major festival has in celebrating the history of cinema, by eliminating or stripping down its retrospective sidebar, Filmex took it over and did wonderful series on lesser known masters such as Uchida Tomu, Okamoto Kihachi, and Kawashima Yuzo (I penned a piece on Kawashima for their catalog). In recent years, it has even started Tokyo Talents, which aims to help young Asian filmmakers develop their projects; the International Critics Forum, a workshop for budding film critics; as well as seminars in translation and other aspects of film. 

Tokyo International Film Festival 2017: Japanese Films

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In my last report (a little bit too long ago), I talked about my experience serving on the ratings panel at the 2017 Tokyo International Film Festival for the Asahi newspaper. Because I had to watch all fifteen Competition films I had much less time to view new Japanese movies than I hoped. Nevertheless, I did catch a number of interesting films, although the average level of the Japanese product I saw was disappointingly not that high.

First, there were two Japanese films in the Competition: Zeze Takahisa’s The Lowlife and Ooku Akiko’s Tremble All You Want, both of which produced complex but quite different reactions in me. With a background in pink film, Zeze was in some ways returning to familiar territory with a film about the AV porn industry, but The Lowlife focused on the actresses, having been based on AV actress Mana Sakura’s novel. Its boldest, yet clearly most controversial challenge, was the decision not to pursue the question of why these women appear in AV. I could agree with that, since the question itself is problematic, since it frequently revolves around social prejudices against sexuality that are not equally applied to men: people will obsess over why a woman appears in AV, but not over why a man does. Zeze instead focuses on the relationships of the women, with delicate portrayals that in the end emphasize female connections in the family. I ultimately liked the film, though some colleagues hated it and considered it no better than an AV film. I instead thought it consciously deviated from both AV and pink, in terms of narrative (the only spontaneous off-set sex in the film is a failure) and camera style (using shallow focus against the pan focus of AV), but I did recognize that with at least one woman (the older married woman Ayako), there was the danger that the hinted motivations hewed a bit too closely to the MILF genre in porn.

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