Friday, October 10, 2008

TJSFF’08 REVIEW: Ichigo Programme

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

Of the five programmes that make up TJSFF this year the two most diverse have got to be the Mikan and Ichigo programmes, and no offense to the former but I think the latter is the far stronger of these two. Here’s a look at all but one of the films included in Mikan. I was so impressed with Tsuki Inoue’s “A Woman who is Beating the Earth” that I’ll be featuring it as its own full review next week.

"The Japanese Tradition: Origami- NAMIKIBASHI" (2006)

One of my favorite Japanese short films is Junji Kojima’s comedy “Armchair Theory” from the “Jam Films 2” compilation, so to see the Japanese Tradition instructional video template used for another film set my hopes very, very high, in fact probably to high. The title of this 6-minute film pretty much says it all. “Origami” takes us through the popular art of Japanese paper folding, but it quickly takes us beyond the usual cranes and flowers. As in “Armchair Theory” the genteel art of origami is used for broad comedy as we watch two origami masters face off in a competition. The laughs come from one competitor creating absurdly detailed representations of topics such as human kindness, friendship and even the Tour de France while the other competitor tackles these subjects with Zen simplicity, repeatedly crumpling the paper with his hand; funny at first, but it’s a koke that when repeated three or four times can’t even carry such a short film.

"Chainsaw Maid" – Takena Nagao (2007)

I actually posted Takena Nagao’s “Chainsaw Maid” on the blog at the end of August, but it was great to see that it got a slot at this year’s TJSFF. In the same way that Hiroyuki Nakano’s “Lighthouse” featured in the Momo programme was a yakuza in film miniature Nagao’s film is a hilarious distillation of all the elements of a great zombie film: a mysterious disease, the lone survivors trapped in an enclosed space, the flesh-eating dead and of course gore, gore and more gore. While I sometimes questions people’s joy at watching two hours of death and dismemberment “Chainsaw Maid” I can totally see the appeal of 7 minutes of claymation carnage, plus this has one of the best endings I’ve seen for a film, feature length or otherwise.

"Smiling Service for Zero Yen?" – Lin Yirong (2007)

Donut stores, convenience stores, the ubiquitous McDonald’s outlets; it didn’t matter wherever I went while traveling in Japan I was continually surprised by the friendliness and seeming happiness of people working in low-paying service jobs that normally destroy people’s faith in humanity after a week. It’s a phenomena that so many foreigners in Japan comment on, but young Chinese student Lin Yirong has a unique perspective on the subject. She worked numerous customer service jobs while studying in Japan and the doctrine of “Smiling Service” was one that was constantly drilled into her, so much so that she made a film about it. Lin doesn’t tell us much that we don’t already know, mind you, but her bemused attitude is so much more refreshing than the cynical and snide kind of treatment that this subject would have gotten from a young North American living and working in Japan .

"A Room with a View" – Tetsuji Kurashige (2008)

It will take quite a while to get some of the images from Tetsuji Kurashige’s “A Room with a view” out of my head. Subtitled “A Story Concerning Borders and Skin” the film starts off as a subdued portrait of a taxidermist cloistered away in his studio giving dead things the appearance of life, but as the isolation of his world is invaded by the daughter of a prostitute, an unemployed circus performer and an angel the narrative spirals and shifts into some truly surreal territory. From angels wings that look more like brittle autumn branches to a crucified Santa Claus who gets his jolly belly sliced open by a katana like a piñata Kurashige takes viewers under the dead skin of everyday reality into a world of nightmarish animated beauty.

"Kannou no Niwa: A Garden of Sensuality" – Chieko Sakai (2007)

I could help thinking of painter Georgia O’Keefe as I watched Cheiko Sakai’s 8-minute comedy “Kannou no Niwa”. O’Keefe’s floral works were as close to full on representations of women’s genitals that you could get away with during the 1920s, but Sakai goes a step further, using the flower garden in her film to represent a frustrated housewife’s newly awakened sexuality. Yoko suspects that the long hours that her husband has been keeping at the office have less to do with workload than it has to do with another woman. Afraid to end the marriage she sublimates her frustrations into turning a small patch of dirt in their yard into a flower garden, but how could she know that a bit of puttering in the dirt will unlock orgasmic delights and give her the courage to break free from an unhappy relationship. Not only is “Kannou no Niwa” funny, but it’s a beautiful piece of work, rich in colour, contrast and light.

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