Day 3 of Shinsedai was absurdly full: Great films, insightful Q&A sessions, bento boxes, Red Bull and good cheer.
12:00 – "Vortex & Others: 5 Short Films" (dir. Yoshihiro Ito)
Day Three started with a kick to the cerebral cortex in the form of Yoshihiro Ito's "Vortex and Others: 5 Short Films". In a festival full of fascinating features and scintillating shorts, Ito's work stands out as stylistically diverse, funny, and hugely satisfying. Ito's varied techniques--using horror film tropes out of context for huge laughs, building quiet tension through modern dance, crossing imaginary lines to the supernatural and back--kept the considerable noontime audience by turns amused, engaged and delighted. Ito, a special guest of Shinsedai who attended most every minute of the 3-day fest, also granted a Q&A session after the showing and answered everyone's questions with grace and humor. In short, dude is a superhero.
2:15 – "Now, I…" (dir. Yasutomo Chikuma)
Screening with "The Rule of Dreams"
Completely self-financed, "Now, I…" represents the indie spirit as indie as it gets. Satoru is a 20-yr-old NEET (Not engaged in Education, Employment or Training), which means he spends his days playing video games, napping, and eating junk food. Through a series of circumstances he's forced to do the one thing he is least equipped to handle: interact with the outside world. A claustrophobic handheld camera style lends "Now, I…" with a deeply personal, slightly voyeuristic look into a dysfunctional life, and in fact a lifestyle phenomenon.
Not to be outdone by Ito-san, Yasutomo Chikuma--the writer, editor, director and star of "Now, I…" also attended the festival and held a Q&A session. Chikuma-san went to pains to explain that his film wasn't intended to represent the NEET culture, but rather told a story in which a character just happened to occupy that lifestyle. His careful, measured responses to all questions verified what everyone at the screening had guessed: Chikuma is a serious, thoughtful filmmaker with a definite point of view.
4:30 – Round Table Discussion: "Being Indie In Japan"
A packed house and a TV camera crew greeted the Shinsedai programmers and guests in the upstairs conference room of the JCCC. The various filmmakers in attendance--Yoshihiro Ito, Yasutomo Chikuma, "Thunderfish"ers Touru Hano, Junko Kimoto, and Tetsuhiro Kato, and animator Akino Kondoh--answered questions from Chris and Jasper as well as the audience. Topics varied from where indie filmmakers get their funding (short answer: wherever they can find it) to how audience reaction to their work varies from country to country. Again, these filmmakers opened up to the appreciate Shinsedai crowd, resulting in an insight into the Japanese film industry few of us would have otherwise.
6:00 PM – "The New God" (dir. Yutaka Tsuchiya)
Screening with "Maledict Car"
"The New God" was one of the films screened that had people talking in the lobby. essentially a documentary of nationalist/right wing punk band The Revolutionary Truth, "New God" really documents the confusion of young adult identity in a capitalist Japan, and the extremes--both political and personal--that can result. Amamiya is a girl in search of an answer in the form of a system, something that will give her life meaning and direct her actions. Within a span of a few months, this search takes her from Nationalist party meetings in Japan to North Korea to the stage at a punk venue. On the way, she reveals that she's "easily brainwashed" and in fact needing to be brainwashed, and maybe she falls in love. Humming with the passion and confusion of its politically-charged protagonists, "The New God" is a singular experience.
8:15 PM – "Girl Sparks" (dir. Yuya Ishii)
Screening with "The Trains"
Why are teachers so annoying? Why won't her father wash off the stink from work? Who pooped in the bathtub? And most importantly of all, why are there constantly rockets flying overhead?
Such are the daily trials of Saeko, the deeply peeved protagonist of "Girl Sparks", the closing film of the inaugural Shinsedai Film Festival. Ishii's film is a raucous comedy set in the same rural Japan that hosts "Taste of Tea" and "Kamikaze Girls": A green and remote not-Tokyo where eccentricities are the norm and teenagers struggle to figure out who they are and what they want. Saeko lives with her dad, a comically overenthusiastic parent who wants desperately to be both father and mother to her. Eventually this family unit is made larger by various other cast members who move in, exasperating Saeko and leading to Two Beats-style hijinx. The laughs started almost immediately and rarely let up for the 94-minute running time, a fitting end to a fun weekend of unique and fascinating films.