Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nippon Connection 2009: Day 1

by Chris MaGee

Well, it's been a couple daysof rest and cultural aclimatization, but asof last night the 9th Annual Nippon Connection Film Festival got under way with a bang... Actually more like a boom, or a series of booms with a performance by the Franklfurt-based female taiko troupe, Sakura, followed by a gala screening of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Tokyo Sonata" with producerYukie Kito in attendance. It was definitely a packed house with everyone from university students, Japanese cinema lovers from across Europe and the full contingent of festivals guests all rubbing elbows.

It was actually the first chance that I had to meet online friends and long-time supporters of the Pow-Wow like Jasper Sharp and Nippon Connection program director Alex Zahlten, so I must confess that most of the night was taken up with frequent trips to the bar and plenty of great conversation.

Highlights of the opening night party? A conversation with "A Normal Life, Please!" director Tokachi Tsuchiya over sushi and champagne. After bonding over that fact that we both spent several years working in book retail we managed a brief discussion of the declining state of worker's rights both in Japan and around the world. He believes that the situation in Japan is by far the worst, and I can't disagree. Sadly a scheduling conflict will have Tsuchiya returning to Japan fora screening of "A Normal Life, Please!" before it screens here on Sunday. Regardless of his absence I know I'll be there to catch it.

Besides chatting with Tsuchiya-san it was nice to see some filmmaker comraderee when "GS Wonderland" director Ryuichi Honda helped Yasunobu Takahashi, who's here presenting his indie film "Locked Out", fashion an inpromptu plywood signboard to mount the film's poster on. Since then both Takahashi and "Locked Out's" lead actor Kiichi Sonobe have been doing some good old-fashioned sign waving and handingout leaflets to promote their film.

This morning, a bit hungover, I made it to the opening press conference where Alex Zahlten (above center) introduced all the guests from the Nippon Cinema programme, from left to right: pinku eiga legend Mamoru Watanabe here presenting his latest film "Parting Present", animator Tatsuyuki Tanaka, director of "Toujin Kit" from Studio 4°C's "Genius Part Beyond", up and coming pink film director Rei Sakamoto here with his film "Yariman", Ryuichi Honda, director of "G.S. Wonderland", "Tokyo Sonata" producer Yukie Kito, and last but not least "Non-ko" director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri. TheNippon Connection folks have actually asked me to conduct a one-on-one interview with both Honda and Kumakiri who are being hyped here as the two bad boys of Osaka Gakudai University Film Program. Check back in a few days for our chat.

It was at the reception following the press conference that I got to speak at length with Kito about the international success of "Tokyo Sonata" and how it not only represents a new phase in the career ofKiyoshi Kurosawa, whose previous films like "Cure" and"Pulse" had defined him as a horror filmmaker, but also for Kito herself. "Tokyo Sonata" is the first Japanese film that she's produced having previously worked in the world of American indie films with directors like Mira Nair, Wayne Wang and most recently Jim Jarmusch with his upcoming film "The Limits of Control". Look back in the next few weeks for an exclusive interview with Kito.

That's the skinnyon the fest thus far. Just got out of a screening of Ikki Katashima´s blaxck comedy "Serial Dad" and am rushing to catch a screening of Yukiko Sode's "mime-mime".

I'll leave you with this year's trailer for Nippon Connection until my next film review.

No comments: