Sunday, October 12, 2008

TJSFF'08 REVIEW: Mikan Programme

by Chris MaGee

As I mentioned in my previous review for this year's Toronto Japanese Short Film Festival the two most diverse of the programmes were the Ichigo and Mikan. Yes, I thought the films in the former were a lot stronger, but there were some bright moments in Mikan as well. Here's a run down.

"You and I, and the Wind" - Mitsuo Toyama (2005)

I spoke with a friend and her boyfriend about "You and I, and the Wind" after the screening. One liked it and the other was confused by it and I think that's what this three short minute film did for most of the audience. For my part I really liked it. A girl stands at her window in the middle of the night and is beckoned by a mysterious young man to take a nocturnal journey with him. What follows is a hallucinatory stream of consciousness narrative with a whispered voice over that brings to mind that state when you're not quite awake, but you're not quite asleep either. What goes on behind those lit windows in the middle of the night? Maybe this film has the answer.

"Assassin" - Wataru Furuta (2005)

Here's a great example of how to screw up a film: have just a sliver of an idea, in this case two professional assassins, a man and a woman, trying to kill each other over tea, and then try and fill in the gaps in the screenplay with a bunch of showy jump cutting and freeze frames. Give it an annoying acid jazz soundtrack. Oh, and most importantly you have zero budget, so shoot it all on hi-def video using only available light so most of the interior sequences are so murky that they're almost impossible to see. Follow these simple rules and you two could have a film like Wataru Furuta's "Assassins", one of the worst of this year's fest.

"Mont-Blancism" - Lisa Abe (2006)

Unlike the above film first time director Lisa Abe's film "Mont-Blancism" is a perfect case of doing the most with what little you have. Her simple storyline about a 17-year-old boy who has an obsession with Mont-Blanc cakes, little custard filled cupcakes popular in Japan, is kept entertaining through the film's 10-minute running time by having a cast of endearing characters, the boys family who want nothing but to steal his beloved dessert out of the refrigerator. Add to that that Abe overcomes her very low budget using inventive visual methods and great sound design. It makes you wonder what she would be capable of with an experienced crew and suitcase full of money at her disposal.

"Agonshiru: Mother's Soup" - Jun Fujisaki (2007)

A pregnant woman navigates the steep stairs and winding alleys of Nagasaki. I remember doing the same thing in Onomichi, so I could have watched footage of this forever, but Jun Fujisaki's "Agonshiru: Mother's Soup" isn't about an aimless Sunday afternoon walk, it's about reconnection, family and forgivness. It turns out that this woman has come to Nagasaki to seek out the mother who abandoned her when she was a little girl. This is a totally unpretensious film that follows this woman's quest matter of factly. but beautifully and the final scenes where mother and daughter share a lunch of noddles in broth, their slurping mixed with their sobbing is priceless.

"Nengajo" - Secky Chang (2006)

I guess we in North America aren't the only ones who curse having to write out all those Christmas cards. Secky Chang's 12-minute film "Nangajo" not only explains the history behind the often elaborate New Year's cards sent by the millions by Japanese to family and friends, but she illustrates her point by showing one man's struggle to get a stack of these written and in the mail. Again, this film has a low to no-budget, but the choice of actor is perfect as he has a wonderful hangdog, brow beaten look about him and his constant battle to maintain focus through hours of writing nengajo exemplified by his repeated statement "Emotional confusion makes for confused writing" delivers the biggest laughs. Not a perfect film (it's a tad long for what it's trying to get across) "Nengajo" was still one that the audience enjoyed... but can someone explain to me why it was narrated in French?

"Orizuru" - Junya Sakino (2006)

Here's a film that tried really hard to be great. Taking the story of a romance between an American engineer and a Japanese woman in Hiroshima prior to WW2 and the eventual birth of their son as its basis "Orizuru" attempts to bridge the cultural gaps to send a message of peace. Lofty and admirable goals, but maybe a bit too lofty and admirable when you take stock of what director Sakino had to work with. While the writing and editing were really quite impressive the acting left a lot to be desired and as the story progressed through to that fateful day in August 1945 I found scenes of the half Japanese boy being bullied to have some disturbing political under currents. Given a softer touch "Orizuru" could have been something special, but as it is it's a film that shouts its message a little too loudly.

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