by Chris MaGee
This past Sunday saw the 7th annual Toronto Japanese Short Film Festival wrap up in the city, but we've still got reviews of this year's films coming your way. Check out our coverage of the Momo and Mikan Programs here as well as the reviews for the Ichigo and Ringo Programs below. Please note that unforeseen circumstances took me out of the Ringo Program for a period of time so I've highlighted the films I was able to catch.
R25 Movie Dictionary - Yuji Mitsuhashi (2009)
Ever wanted to throw a pie in the face of a yakuza? Search out the spirit of the forest? Or encounter a pornographic math tutor? Within 2-minutes you can do all this and shampoo your hair multiple times by watching Yuji Mitsuhashi's totally off the wall "R25 Movie Dictionary". Doesn't make sense? You;re right, it doesn't, but it's funny as hell. This one had the audience at Innis Town Hall Theatre rolling with laughter.
A Wolf Loves Pork - Takeuchi Taijin (2007)
There's not much to "A Wolf Loves Pork" than a young man with a wolf hat on following a papier mache pig through city streets, at least in terms of narrative, but this 4-minute short is about style not substance. Filmmaker Takeuchi Taijin takes umpteenth amounts of photographs of our hungry wolf stalking his pig and then printed them up and pasted them to the walls of his room to create a simple and ingenious stop motion effect. There were more than a few audience members who were puzzling just how much it cost to get all those hundreds of photographs developed!
Mr. Bubblegum - Shoh Kataoka (2009)
Shoh Kataoka's "Mr. Bubblegum" is a film that's been slowly but surely generating buzz online for the past few months with a hilarious trailer popping up at a number of websites. The basic premise - a man is writing a suicide note in a public park when he's interrupted by a young high school girl who first critiques it then helps him rewrite it. The concept is indeed funny, but the full film has an added element of pathos and a touch of unwelcome flirtation from the suicidal man that takes "Mr. Bubblegum" up a few narrative notches. Watching the film I couldn't help but think of the numerous pairings of a slacker male and his female teenage sidekick that appears again and again in the stories and novels of Haruki Murakami. While "Mr. Bubblegum" never gets as surreal as Murakami's work it does manage to tweak tragedy into comedy by shifting our usual perspective.
Tokyo Arirang - Miwha Park (2008)
Filmmaker Miwha Park is a third generation zainichi, or Japanese-Korean who bravely made the trip to Toronto for the festival despite the death of her grandmother. Her film "Tokyo Arirang" is not only an exploration of her roots growing up different in Japan, but it also ends up being a loving tribute to her late grandmother. A young zainichi girl makes friends with other Japanese of Korean ancestry, celebrating their heritage through food and song, while at the same time the matriarch of the family passes away. Unlike so many of the films programmed at TJSFF "Tokyo Arirang" was shot on film as opposed to hi-def video and Park's choice gives her film an almost timeless quality.
Bloody Date - Takena Nagao (2006) (above)
One of the audience favorites at the 6th Toronto Japanese Short Film Festival (and YouTube viral hit) was Takena Nagao's ultra-violent claymation film "Chainsaw Maid", and this year Nagao returns with another splatter fest, "Bloody Date". Yup, you got it - an innocent young couple heads out for a date in the park... and he gets his head smashed in with an axe by a maniac. When the girlfriend begs for help at a nearby house little does she realize that its gothic inhabitants are connected to the murder and that far worse things await her inside. This would be torture porn at its worst if it weren't for the fact that it was made up of crude stop-motion plasticine animation. Way too harsh for "Sesame Street" for sure, but someone from "Wonder Showzen" needs to get Nagao's contact information and get him making short films for them.
A Third Skin - Kotaro Wajima (2009)
I managed to catch Tsuki Inoue's "A Woman Who is Beating the Earth" at the 6th annual Toronto Japanese Short Film Fest and I was so impressed with it that I gave it a full review despite its roughly 20-minute run time. This year Kotaro Wajima's "A Third Skin" had a similar impact on me, so check back this Friday for a full review of this 30-minute mini-masterpiece.
La Maison en Petits Cubes - Kunio Kato (2008)
It's gotten to the point that Kunio Kato's "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto" Oscar acceptance speech is better known than the film that he actually won the Oscar for. Thankfully TJSFF gave Toronto audiences a chance to see for themselves why Kato took the coveted Best Animated Short Oscar home last year. An old man lives in a cottage that he must continually build on top of in order to keep it above sea level. When he accidentally drops his pipe into the water while moving from the house built below his new one he has to do some deep sea diving in order to retrieve it. In the process he goes through a series of his old homes and reminisces about his life, his family and his late wife. Anyone who had a hard time getting through the memory montages of Pixar's "Up" will have an equally hard time holding back the tears with "La Maison en Petits Cubes". Kato is a masterful animator, but its his keen but gentle insight into the impermanence of life makes this film a true gem.
Komaneko The Curious Cat: The First Step - Tsuneo Goda (2003)
Created by the same team who brought us our ubiquitous toothy friend Domo "Komaneko The Curious Cat: The First Step" feels like a blanket fresh out of the dryer and a steaming cup of coco on a brisk winter day, not that it's set in winter, but its simple story conveys the womb-like comforts of childhood when our imaginations, some stuffed toys (and a warm cup of coco) could easily shut out every care and worry. Komaneko is spending the day in his cozy attic room making a stop-motion film of two toys meeting and falling in love. After hours of work our Curious Cat nods off and his toys finish the job themselves. Japan continues to show us that CGI isn't the only way to go when it comes to animation, and in the case of "Komaneko" director Tsuneo Goda accomplishes this by taking us through the stop-motion animation process right in his film.
Fit Song - Koichiro Tsujikawa (2006)
An empty room comes to life in the music video for Japanese electronic artist Cornelius' single "Fit Song". Directed by Koichiro Tsujikawa a baseball bouncing out of a box, starting a chain reaction that has sugar cubes, light bulbs, matches and toothbrushes dancing on tabletops and through the air. At first the video give you a feeling like you're watching one of the elaborate domino set-ups that fall into intricate designs with the flick of a finger, but very quickly things go zero gravity and a normal apartment becomes a galaxy of everyday items. Clever? Absolutely! But thankfully it's only 4-minutes long. Anything longer would have induced vertigo.
Peeping Life - Ryouichi Mori (2009) (above)
Director Ryouichi Mori has got a comedy goldmine with his "Peeping Life" series of animated shorts. tape an everyday conversation, animate characters around it and voila! Instant laughs! Animator Nick Park uses the same formula for his hilarious "Wallace and Gromit" films, but with "Peeping Life" Mori verges on Samuel Beckett territory with the absurdity and repetitiveness of his conversations. The episode featured at TJSFF, "Fiddle Faddle Couple", takes place between a boyfriend and girlfriend, the latter angered and annoyed that her beau isn't as enthusiastic about her new kawaii outfit as she thinks he should be. Any guy who ever had to dig himself out of a hole with his girlfriend will find this short a little too close for comfort, but in the end that's what makes this so funny.