Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Shinsedai Cinema Festival - countdown to Japan trip!

As you may or may not already know, I've wanted to go to Japan for over a decade now. I can't entirely explain why, I just love Japan in my mind and it's been a dream of mine to one day go there. When Norman and I were talking about this 6 months ago, he said "let's go then" - and somehow something that I'd been putting off for years was something I was booking flights for as I dusted off my Japanese language CDs. {At this point I should admit that my whole life I thought I was a romantic-dreamer sort of person.. and then I met my lovely husband, for whom the notion of "can't" doesn't seem to exist. He makes me look like a pessimist. I guess that's what happens when you grow up in the land of Lepprechauns and Fairies :) }

Anyways - we've booked our flights, have so far learned how to introduce ourselves, count to 10 and discuss our hobbies. I've been devouring books about Japan, both memoirs by other foreigners who've visited and translations of Japanese literature (currently reading "Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan" - awesome!). We've been trying to talk to everyone we know who's ever been there. So even though I know that the Shinsedai Cinema Festival showcasing Japanese films wasn't planned especially for us, the timing was perfect :)

It was a four-day festival at the Revue Cinema and included 12 main films and a selection of shorts that were shown before the main ones. (Three of the "main films" where actually collections of shorter pieces as well, and one was a double-bill of two hour-long "Pink Films"). I'm sure there will be loads of proper film critics out there writing about these films, so I'm just going to mention what were my personal favourite moments from the weekend..

I got the Deluxe Festival Pass, and went to everything. Norman had a 5-film pass. Here's what we saw:

Ringing in Their Ears - this was Norman's favourite. It was half documentary about a Japanese indie band about to break out into major lable stardom, and half imagined stories about a handful of fictional fans of the band. It was preceded by one of the best shorts of the festival, Back. This followed two kids in reverse as they walked through the streets, with all sorts of excitement around them.

Enter the Cosmos: Takashi Makino Special - This was a collection of three shorter pieces of "experimental filmaking". I'm going to be honest, I'm not THAT arty. I did fall asleep in part of the middle and last films, which were incredibly abstract and a bit psychedelic. I - more than once - wondered "how much longer?". But here's the crazy thing: watching something that isn't actually demanding anything from your brain as far as paying attention goes, allows your mind to sort of float around. At first it was my never-ending "to-do" list very vividly presenting itself. And then my mind wandered in a way that I don't normally have time to let it do. By the end of the movies I was a bit bored and a bit relieved to be going home - but after leaving, I felt really awake creatively.. it was sort of like exfoliation for whatever part of the mind is in charge of "possibilities" and "ideas", the part that gathers dust as we worry about paying bills and meeting deadlines. So these three films were not something I would say I enjoyed as films, but I would say I enjoyed the experience they gave me - which was a very unexpected and great one.

Ghost Cat & The Mysterious Shamisen - this was cool because it was an old (1938) black & white horror film, with all the women running around in kimonos.

Zero Man vs. The Half Virgin - really funny, loved the foreigner speaking bad Japanese (that will be us!) and a great ending. It was preceded by a short called Dark on Dark about a very busty woman going around placing her breast on men's heads to cheer them up - a good pairing :)

The Naked Summer - a documentary about butoh dancing. It follows a group of around 40 people at a butoh dance retreat, leading up to an awesome final performance where everyone wore not much more than gold paint and danced by torchlight. This was beautiful and was one of my favourites.

{in between these films I met my awesome friend Amanda for ice cream and a walk down Roncesvalles - this strip has changed a lot since I lived near it 7 years ago, and has some fantastic little shops and places for ice cream!}

From the Great White North: Yubari Fanta Special - this included three shorter films: Hole and Pole, The Student Wrestler, and Mrs. Akko and Her Husband. All were really good; I especially loved the humour of the first one (where highschool students are taught to overcome their enemies by out-pleasuring them), and the second one was also really funny (a documentary about the lives of student wrestlers and their lack of girlfriends).

End of the Night - I didn't really like this one as much as many of the others, although it ended up getting an honourable mention as the film that very nearly won the audience award, so obviously other people must have really liked it..

Battle Girls & Bondage: a Pink Film Double bill - both these movies were entertaining (the first one had a great low-budget mid-80's hilarity factor), but for me the highlight by far was the live performance right before the films. A dancer in a sexy-tized kimono wielded two gauze-wrapped fans in such a way that it literally looked as if she was dancing with jelly fish. It was so beautiful. There was also a short documentary about the history and making of Pink Films, which was really interesting and funny.

Hiroshima Nagasaki Download - this was awesome. It was a documentary about the survivors of the atomic bombs who are now living in North America, and also ended up being about the emotional and psychological journey that the filmmakers experienced while travelling around and interviewing their subjects. We both really loved this film, and it won the audience award. It was preceded by one of the best shorts, called On This Side, about an elderly couple struggling with illness. I don't think a single word was spoken from either character, but the visuals and the music beautifully showed a heartbreaking story. I cried. And then after the feature documentary there was an interview on stage with a Hiroshima survivor which was also nothing short of amazing.

Good For Nothing - also not one of my favourites..

Beyond Anime: The Outer Limits - this was a collection of animated pieces curated by festival co-director Jasper Sharp to showcase the vast variety of non-Anime animation being created in Japan.. a lot of it was a bit dark in theme, most of it was very good. Also due to the lack of subtitles it was another time during the weekend when I felt my mind was free to just absorb and enjoy.

{I actually went for a short walk after this screening and took some amazing photos in the neighbourhood :) Three of these images ended up being part of my 7-image submission to my first ever photography competition that was completed on Monday.. here's one of them:
Plus, I somehow had time to find the best kid's book ever (called "Go the F##k to Sleep") in a great bookstore on Roncesvalles, which I brought home with me because everyone should have a copy of this book.}

Tentsuki - I had a couple of moments when I wondered what the heck was going on in this film, and did it matter, and was I enjoying it even if it didn't make much sense..? There were some really beautiful shots though, so I enjoyed the watching of it (if that makes sense). And at the very end, I suddenly thought of Kafka. And how in the end none of his work really went anywhere or made any sense, but you somehow loved him in spite of it. That's how I felt about this film :)

Phew! It was a marathon that involved much planning ahead with snacks and meals, much stretching between screenings, much adding and subtracting of clothing layers due to the extreme heat outside and air conditioning inside, and much smiling :) I can't thank co-programmers Chris MaGee and Jasper Sharp enough for a fantastic experience and a great launch into the planning of our trip! If you missed the festival this year and have any interest in Japan or independant films, make sure to catch it next year!

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