by Chris MaGee
We've been anticipating it for a while, but finally we're in the midst of the 11th annual Nippon Connection Japanese Film Festival in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. In the fallout of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the subsequent crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant there was a question as to whether this year's festival would happen at all, but thankfully the Nippon Connection team made the decision that this year it is even more important highlight Japanese film and culture. We here at the J-Film Pow-Wow applaud this show of solidarity.
While the presence of origami cranes, traditionally folded in Japan as a type of physical prayer, scattered around the main festival site is a reminder of the "Help Japan" message of this year's event the opening night of Nippon Connection was still as much of a celebration as ever. The night was kicked off with a reception that was opened by the Gamushara-Oendan, a troupe of male cheerleaders. Don't think short skirts, cleavage and pom-poms here. These guys are all business. Stomping and shouting, dressed in black high-collared school uniforms (called gaku-ran) the job of these cheerleaders is to drive team spirit into you... or else! They also got the assembled crowd of guests and media laughing and clapping along. While past years' opening have featured exquisite example of traditional dance and taiko drumming the boys of Gamushara-Oendan have to be our favorite openers of the fest to date. You can check out more about the troupe at their Japanese language website here.
Once the cheering was done a huge line queued up to see the opening night film, Hitoshi Yazaki's "Sweet Little Lies", a portrait of a disintegrating marriage starring Miki Nakatani and Nao Omori (you can read our full review below). It was a packed house in the theatre, and meanwhile out in the festival lounge Adam Torel, the president of Third Window Films, uncrated his collection of rare northern soul and 70's and 80's J-Pop to DJ the opening party. While the music built the beer flowed and it was time to catch up with this year's festival guests Jasper Sharp and Tom Mes (Midnight Eye), Julian Ross, and Cathy Munroe Hotes (Nishikata Film Review), as well as the Nippon Connection crew -- Marion, Petra, Dennis, Erin, Lukas, Gary, Martin, Antje... and the list goes on and on. Without these folks this year's fest wouldn't have happened, so a big thank you to them. Every year Nippon Connection feels like a home for Japanese film fans like us.
Keep checking back in the coming days and we'll be posting reviews and updates from here in Frankfurt!