Sunday, May 1, 2011

Nippon Connection Update: Day 4

By Marc Saint-Cyr

Things remain lively and fun here in Frankfurt for Chris and myself as we spend our time amongst the several films and events that we caught in our fourth day of Nippon Connection. Film-wise, I began with a fantastic discovery - "Abraxas," directed by Naoki Kato and based on a novel by Sokyu Genyu. It focuses on Jonen (Suneohair), who turned away from a life as an angry punk rocker to instead become a Buddhist monk. Battling depression, he yearns to express himself with music, which occupies a place of great spiritual importance to him. Thus, he gets the idea of holding a rock concert, which causes mixed reactions amongst the people around him. With this already intriguing concept, the film delivers a hugely satisfying viewing experience. Beyond Suneohair, who beautifully brings eccentricity, humor and angst to his performance, the story is fleshed out by a wonderful cast who all fill out their respective roles admirably. Similarly, a real sense of place is established in the small community where Jonen lives and works as locations are regularly visited and used for memorable scenes. Most significant, in light of the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan, is the fact that "Abraxas" was in fact shot in Fukushima - which ultimately imparts more of a sense of inspiration than sadness, even though the city has undergone great changes since the capturing of the images in the film. To have seen such a well-made film that does justice to its location at a festival focused on strengthening bonds with Japan is truly a perfect experience - one that enforces the positivity that can stem from a festival like this one.

Later on, I caught two other films, both by Kishu Izuchi and presented by his screening movement Eiga Ikki. "Mole's Festival" from 2009 is an intriguing story of three women who work as caretakers for a kindly old man and get caught up in a series of escalating events centered on a cruelly deceptive scheme run by shameless scamsters. Though stimulating due to its unpredictable nature, the film is still hampered by a weakly written script that, after some time, feels overly tiresome. But 2010's "Muddy Planet" marks a vast improvement, turning away from convoluted storytelling towards a more naturalistic portrayal of a circle of friends who ponder their futures and pursue possible love interests in a small-town agricultural school.

Beyond such efforts from emerging filmmakers, the day also provided some tantalizing treasures from the past as well - namely the Sion Sono films "I Am Sion Sono!!," "Keiko Desukedo" and "Utsu-Shimi," which all premiered for the first time at the festival as part of its Sono retrospective. Additionally, yesterday we forgot to mention yet another excellent discussion, this one (shown in the above picture) moderated by Nishikata Film Review's Cathy Munroe Hotes and involving animators Mirai Mizue, Nobuaki Doi and Takeshi Nagata (Tochka) in a talk on the aspects of their work, which was featured in the festival's CALF Animation Special.

Ultimately, it was another full day - and one made all the more enjoyable by the fantastic atmosphere provided by the people who have gathered here for the festival and, not least of all, the fantastic team of volunteers and staff who have kept things running smoothly and seen to our needs in splendid fashion. Stay tuned for a report on our last day here at what has been a hugely enjoyable Nippon Connection!

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